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Diplomas Now Helps Student Thrive in New Middle School and Succeed in High School

Angel BorderAs a freshman at Chief Sealth International High School, Angel Garcia-Castellanos earns As and Bs and attends school regularly. He plans to major in engineering in college and pursue a master’s in computer science at the University of Oregon.

Angel’s current path is markedly different from the one he was on when he transferred to Denny International Middle School in Seattle in the 7th grade.

After a death in the family prompted him to move from eastern Washington to live with his aunt and uncle in Seattle, Angel had trouble adjusting to his new school. He didn’t know anyone and had a rocky start. He says he regularly skipped class and struggled with his course work, especially math. Thanks to support from his “amazing” teachers, especially Ms. Schulte, and guidance from Diplomas Now staff, however, Angel started making better choices.

Communities In Schools site coordinator Amber Brown forged a strong relationship with the struggling 7th grader that helped him get on the right track. Using data from regular early warning indicator meetings, teachers, administrators and Diplomas Now staff found that Angel was off track in attendance, behavior, and course performance and connected him with Amber for additional support.

“We have early-warning-indicator meetings that are a great way to generate data so no kids are slipping through the cracks,” said Denny Principal Jeff Clark.

“We have early warning indicator meetings that are a great way to generate data so no kids are slipping through the cracks,” said Denny Principal Jeff Clark. “The school transformation facilitator from Johns Hopkins helps track our scholars with data and action plans for improvement.”

Amber worked to earn Angel’s trust, first meeting with him weekly and then Angel started stopping by her office every day. They set goals and talked about school as well as anything else on the young teen’s mind. “I talked to him the way I talk to any of my students, very respectfully,” Amber said. “I had high expectations for him.”

Amber helped Angel understand the consequences of missing school, connected him with resources to improve in math, and helped him adjust to the new environment. With help from Amber, Angel went from barely understanding his math homework to participating in a math, engineering, and achievement summer program.

“Diplomas Now has been instrumental in accelerating our progress,” said Principal Clark.”

Angel’s improved performance reflects the progress of Denny as a whole. “Diplomas Now has been instrumental in accelerating our progress,” said Principal Clark. But Denny’s entire staff of teachers and administrators have put in tremendous efforts to support students. And it shows: Denny has made remarkable strides, winning awards and local media attention. Suspensions have dropped 54 percent from the 2009-2010 school year to last year. Average daily attendance at Denny has risen 3 percentage points over that time. Denny also has improved academically:  In 2006-07, the state average for 8th-grade math proficiency was 49.7 percent, compared to only 28.1 percent for Denny. Last spring, when the state’s 8th grade proficiency dropped to 46.1 percent, Denny’s soared to 70 percent.

Innovative initiatives such as the Attendance Cup have played a key role in Denny’s progress. The Attendance Cup reinforces the importance of students arriving to school on time every day by rewarding the homeroom class with the highest attendance rate in a week and the homeroom with the most improved attendance. Prizes include a trophy, a ribbon on the homeroom class’s door, and Denny Dinero for students in the class. Students use Denny Dinero at the Denny Depot to buy goods including sports equipment, gift cards, school supplies, and headphones. City Year AmeriCorps members also provide guidance to the students on their “focus lists” about attendance and call families when any students in the school are absent. The school holds the Denny Disco during lunch on the last day before school breaks to encourage students to maintain good attendance at a time when attendance rates often decline. Students who have 100 percent attendance during the week of the disco and students who write a reflection on why they missed school that week are permitted to attend. The disco features karaoke, dancing, and a popular pie-eating competition between the principal and students.

“A lot of my old friends aren’t in school anymore,” 15-year-old Angel said. “If not for Amber, I would probably still be skipping class, and I definitely wouldn’t be planning to become an engineer.”

Both Angel and site coordinator Amber agree that these kinds of additional programs and support make it easier for students to choose to prioritize school. “A lot of my old friends aren’t in school anymore,” 15-year-old Angel said. “If not for Amber, I would probably still be skipping class, and I definitely wouldn’t be planning to become an engineer.”



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