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Leaving no senior behind at Foster High | Race to the Top

The magic number is 21.

That’s the number of credits a senior needs to graduate from Foster High School. One credit represents a school year in a class – and successful completion of each class that spans all academic endeavor, from math to science to English.

There are many reasons why a student may not earn enough credits to graduate, probably starting with missing too much class time or they have no place to study.

But whatever the reason, the Tukwila School District is going to intensify its efforts to give every senior who’s falling short of reaching 21 credits a chance to do so, even if it means going to school in the summer.

The district received a three-year, $200,000 Race to the Top grant from the Road Map Project that’s geared to college and career readiness.

And getting ready for college and a career is more than getting a diploma. It’s also about learning the right stuff.

The idea is to make Foster’s curriculum more rigorous by offering additional Advanced Placement classes – and double the number of students who are taking them.

“Part of what’s driving the number of students taking AP courses now is the number of AP classes we have,” said JoAnne Fabian, the Tukwila School District’s director of assessments.

Doing well in an AP class in high school and in placement tests can lead to credit in college for a class.

The school district will send teachers to specialized training this summer to prepare them to teach AP classes. Teachers and students will have a voice in selecting the new classes.

Capable students who might struggle in an advanced class can spend part of the summer at an “AP boot camp” where they’ll learn some study and homework skills and maybe get exposed to some of the course content, Fabian said.

Foster staff will use a “personal touch” to encourage students to enroll in the AP courses, working with Principal Pat Larson and Jesse McCall, Foster’s success coordinator, to develop a list of students to approach.

It’s the student’s decision whether to enroll in an AP course, Fabian said.

“However, for some kids it wouldn’t occur to them that they are talented enough to try it,” said Fabian. A “powerful motivator” is an adult telling them they are.

They might say, “‘Jesse thinks I can do it, then I can do it’,” Fabian said.

They’ll borrow on that faith the adult has in them, Fabian said, “until they develop their own faith muscle.”

But the grant also will help the district ensure than no senior is left behind for lack of trying or he or she simply fell through the cracks. Sometimes that effort takes more than the traditional four years in high school.

To reach the goal of 21 credits, some students will do some school work in the summer. And some students will get a head start.

In one program, students will work a few extra days to finish the work necessary for them to earn credit for a class that they didn’t quite complete.

Seniors normally finish five days before the end of school, but under a credit-recovery program they’ll use those five days or more to do the work necessary to raise a failing grade to a passing one – and earn a credit.

Eighth graders headed for ninth grade will get an early look at high school life – and a credit in the bank – by taking a class such as health at Foster. “They can get that success,” said Fabian.

The $200,000 grant will allow the district to hire a dropout-re-engagement coordinator who will contact Foster students who left the school before graduating. Depending on the situation, the coordinator will ask the student whether he or she wants to return to school, or help them get a GED or a job or find a program for adults at a college.

The goal is to help them further their learning, Fabian said.

“Really what this effort is about is knowing each student and being able to say, ‘Here’s what’s up with this kid.’ It’s getting them through the system,” she said.

“Knowing what’s up with a kid” is sometimes looking at his or her family.

For some seniors, especially if they’re the first in their family to complete high school or go to college, the “hoopla” of graduation and moving on is “terrifying,” Fabian said.

“For some of them what we’re really asking them to do, if they are the first person in their family to graduate, is we are asking them in some ways to violate the rules of belonging in their family,” she said.

“They love their families. Their families love them. But it’s a change,” she said. “And it’s going to be a change that has an impact for them and their families forever.”

So for them, the answer is to finish high school in a way that’s gentle and quiet, so they don’t fail because they can’t deal with the ceremony or the attention, Fabian said.

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