Guest post by Kimie Carroll
I often say to the students that I mentor in our ninth-grade intervention program: “My job is to protect you from yourself.” As anyone who has worked with theses student know, freshmen don’t always make the wisest choices and they need lots of adult support to make positive decisions and pass their classes. To address these problems and reduce the failure rate, Canby High School in 2010 started an after-school intervention program called CATS, or Cougars Achieving Together = Success, designed to provide freshmen with the support and structure needed to make a successful transition into high school.
How CATS Works
The program offers two 90-minute sessions per week, after school on Mondays and Wednesdays. Transportation is available for students who ride the bus, and snacks are provided. During this time, our certified teachers work with freshmen to help them develop the skills and mindset they need to succeed academically throughout their high school career. The teachers give lessons on study skills, organization, self-advocacy, and communication to help students develop a growth mindset. After these lessons, students use the rest of their time to work on assignments and study. The teacher answers questions and offers assistance to help students not only complete their work but also learn the skills, knowledge, and concepts necessary to understand the curriculum. Classes are generally no larger than ten students per teacher.
Our administrative team works closely with the middle school and K–8 school that feed into our high school to introduce eighth graders to CATS. The students learn that if they fail one or more classes during the last semester of eighth grade, then they are required to participate in CATS the first trimester of high school. It is also for students who fail one or more classes during the first or second trimester their freshman year. If students are passing classes at progress reporting time or after, they can exit CATS, but if they drop below a 65 percent in any class, they must reenter CATS.
Students can also elect to stay in CATS and some do. They recognize the value and say they are passing classes because of CATS. Coaches are also supportive of this program, and students who miss practices or games because of CATS are not penalized because of the importance of academics. They are student athletes, and coaches value that.
What We’ve Learned
Freshmen don’t love CATS. Most recognize the value though. Since 2013, we have conducted an annual informal survey with small groups of juniors and seniors who were in CATS. One hundred percent of them said the program helped them, and a large majority even said it provided a strong foundation for the rest of high school. In the past two years, I have asked students what I could have done to help them get the message about the importance of academics, good attendance, etc. their freshman year. All of them said there was nothing I could have said, they just had to grow up.
What this information means for us is that we can’t intervene in all areas for students. They need to progress on their own, make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, and figure things out. Our program is certainly not a guarantee for student success or zero Fs. When we first started, around 120 students failed one or more classes and entered the after-school program. Now, we typically have 70–80 in CATS classes. But what our program does do is identify the students who need the most help, allowing us to provide targeted interventions outside of class to help these students navigate the transition into high school and hopefully pave the road for their academic success.
How to Start an After-School Intervention Program
For those of you who would like to start your own program like CATS, the first thing for you to do is gain the support of your school district and school board. How will you fund the program to pay for teachers, bussing, and snacks? Also, consider your relationships with your middle school(s). With whom do you need to collaborate to identify the students to participate in the program and inform them about the program? If you want to learn more about CATS, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details and assistance.
Would an after-school intervention program like CATS help ease the transition for freshmen in your school?
Kimie Carroll is an associate principal at Canby High School in Canby, OR, and was the 2017 Oregon High School Assistant Principal of the Year. Her first teaching job was as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Dabola, Guinea, in West Africa, from 1991–1993 where she found her love of teaching. Follow her on Twitter @KimieCarroll.