Empowering Students to Aspire Higher

Guest post by Kasey L. Teske

All students have dreams of success after high school, but for some students, their dreams are merely wishes that never come to fruition. How can schools empower more students to aspire higher and reach for their dreams? At Canyon Ridge High School (CRHS) in Idaho, we have made it our mission to help students dream and find success both during and after high school. Our three-part approach focuses on personal goal-setting and preparation for college, career, and life; accountability and support for academic success; and relationship building that cultivates and maintains student interest in school.

Mission GEAR UP

Because of our reenergized mission to gear up all students for college, career, and life, we designed an advisory program and career center at CRHS. Through our advisory program every student has to write down big dreams for their future and create a go-on plan for college and career. Our career center has become a real hub in our school with students constantly seeking guidance to apply to college and for financial aid. Last year, 80 percent of our graduates left our high school with the door open to college—they were accepted to college and completed their FAFSA application for financial aid.

Redesigning Accountability and Support

Most high school students are pushed out by lack of attendance and academic success (see Why Students Drop Out). Thus, our most wildly important goal is for all students to earn a high GPA and pass every class. Our administrative team shares weekly updates about the progress of this goal to staff, students, and parents. Our lead targets for first quarter were a 95 percent attendance rate, a 95 percent passing rate, and a 3.0 average GPA. As an incentive, I told the student body that I would shave my head if they achieved all three. This did get students talking, but in the end, we didn’t hit our lead targets first quarter. We did, however, do better than ever before—93% attendance rate, 93% passing rate, and 2.91 average GPA.

What did we do differently besides setting a clear and compelling goal with specific measures that would relate to all stakeholders, especially students? We designed accountability and support checkpoints along the way. Every three weeks we have planned Accountability Days that provide students the chance to earn a half day off if they have no D’s or F’s and have three or fewer absences. If students don’t meet this standard, they have the mandated opportunity to choose three extra-help sessions for their three lowest classes. These students then must attend the three extra-help sessions after lunch while the students who did meet the standard get the half day off. This gives the students who need it, a chance to make up work for better grades and make up attendance. It is the students’ last chance to fix grades before the teachers move on. The effectiveness of Accountability Days is evident—the result is always an increased passing rate for the school over the prior week.       

Closing the Activity Gap

When big dreams are not enough to keep students in school, caring relationships can help. High school students benefit in many ways from participating in school-related, extracurricular activities (see The Activity Gap). But many of our students who are living in poverty often don’t participate in extracurricular activities because they work or watch younger siblings after school. What if all students had the chance to belong to a school-related club of their choice during school? What if all students had the chance to form relationships with other students and a caring adult of like interests through a club during their day? These what-ifs were compelling enough for our students to organize Club Day—a day with a long advisory period that gives all students the opportunity to attend the club of their choice with an adult advisor and reap the benefits of participation.

Positive Growth

Our data for this three-part approach indicates positive growth. Our graduation rate is on the rise at 89 percent. We are leading the Magic Valley region of Idaho in dual-credit enrollments for the second year in a row. And our go-on rate to college jumped to 53 percent—our highest percentage ever. While we continue to make improvements, these strategies empower our students and help them turn their dreams into reality during high school and beyond.

What strategies empower your students to aspire higher? What practices have been effective to raise your graduation rate and go-on rate to college?

Kasey L. Teske, PhD, is the principal of Canyon Ridge High School in Twin Falls, ID, and also serves on the NASSP Board of Directors. He is the Idaho 2017 Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @principalteske.

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