EAST WENATCHEE — The first four weeks of online school for the Eastmont freshmen was not looking good. By the fourth week, district staff received the demoralizing news that 241 freshmen were failing at least one class.
In the first month of school, the Class of 2024 had amassed 537 total F’s.
“Across our state, particularly in our high schools and junior highs, we’re seeing a large number of students not being successful. Anytime you see an F list, always as an educator, it tugs at your heartstrings because you see kids that aren’t being successful,” Matt Charlton, Eastmont executive director of secondary education. “It’s always alarming. Especially in a pandemic, you just want to do everything you can to help every kid reach that bar.”
Fortunately, Eastmont Junior High was ready to step up and help the struggling students thanks to a grant from an organization called Stand for Children.
Last year, before COVID started, EJHS Principal David Woods found out from colleagues about Stand for Children, which has a program called Ninth Grade Success.
“I met the director of it in Moses Lake before the COVID started. I talked her into giving us a year for free. We are kind of a pilot program with it, so we don’t have to pay for it this year,” Woods said.
Stands for Children helps organize the teams, Woods said, and keeps track of the student data.
“This year, it is a little weird. But in the future, I think it will be even more powerful because it will be constant tracking of students through a data system,” Woods said. “There is coaching that goes along with it. We haven’t experienced that much yet.”
Woods handed off the program to EJHS Assistant Principal Holly Cornehl and Principal Intern Jared Jaeger. Jaeger said when they saw the huge number of failures after four weeks, they came together as a group, school and department.
He said they figured out ways to get to students.
“We interacted with students better. We engaged students better. Even though we were online, we had to rewrite everything we did,” Jaeger said. “Our team meets every two weeks and we fine-tune and celebrate the little successes along the way.”
Woods and Cornehl did home visits while teachers did phone calls. Early on, it was discovered many of the students and families were struggling with the technology.
“Some of it was connectivity issues, some of it was struggles understanding the new Google Meet in the system. They all had new passwords. It was a new information system with a new grading system,” Cornehl said. “Working out the kinks for students and parents for how to get on, what was expected, getting connected to the links. A lot of times, my staff was walking students through how to connect and finding links to your meet and things like that.”
On Sept. 24, there 241 students with at least one F. After the intervention efforts, there are 102 students with at least one F.
Certainly, helping students and families with the technology was important but it was more than that.
“In the end, it was trying to get common expectations among teachers and students. I think we were kind of all over the board in September. Once we had we had conferences and we were able to meet parents through Google Meet in October, we saw the decline in the amount of failure in the ninth grade. That diminished pretty quickly in October,” Jaeger said.
In a normal year, roughly 76% of freshmen pass all three classes in the first nine weeks to be on track to graduate. Now, the freshmen are passing at 80% after nine weeks.
Jaeger said they have to make sure freshmen continue to pass those classes for nine to 10 weeks the rest of the year. The moment someone fails, that percentage goes down.
“We are trying our very best to keep that number at 80%. We’re passionate about that,” Jaeger said.
Cornehl said they must keep constant communication between teachers, counselors and interventionists so somebody is contacting the kids all the time — making sure they know what they need to do.
“We look every Monday at every kid, all the kids. Any kid that drops to an F, we’re contacting their parents, sending screenshots of their attendance, grades. Asking how can we support you? What do you need?” Cornehl said.