How do we set up a school or program so that students are most likely to attend and persist?

Many College, Career & Technology Academy students have spotty high school histories, and attendance can be an issue. CCTA addresses this by building a strong sense of community among the students as well as following up on absences immediately.

STrategies to Improve attendence

Attendance is everyone’s responsibility at the College, Career and Technology Academy. Building a sense of community and creating a cohort of students who encourage one another to attend and to reach their goals is the overarching strategy. Many CCTA students failed to graduate because they have complicated lives and despite a renewed commitment to completing high school and continuing on to postsecondary education, they may face attendance challenges.

 

Key Principles for improving Attendance

ENSURE THAT STUDENTS REALIZE THAT “EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME”

  • Make sure students see how CCTA is different. CCTA students often felt invisible in larger schools. At CCTA, they are recognized and respected.
  • Position staff to greet students at the door by name when they enter school each morning.
  • Follow up on absences immediately by phone. This demonstrates that the school is aware and concerned the student is missing. Two days’ absence prompts a home visit.
  • Use teaching techniques that promote relationships among students:
  • Foster relationships between teachers and students by creating a weekly mentor period (held Fridays, first thing in the morning) during which activities enable teachers and students to get to know each other well.

  • Each teacher in the mentor period uses the same lesson plans, provided by the counselor. Counselors develop lesson plans from the College Counseling Sourcebook: Advice and Strategies from Experienced School Counselors, published by the College Board.  The activities focus on “college knowledge”–becoming familiar with the context of college.

  • Create an atmosphere that is welcoming and fun.

  • Offer events and activities that draw participation, such as breakfasts with guest speakers and field trips to colleges.

CONTINUALLY EXPLORE NEW WAYS TO PROMOTE ATTENDANCE

  • Create an attendance committee that includes teachers and a student representative as well as the attendance liaison and the principal. Meet every two weeks and strategize on how to improve attendance overall. Rotate roles in the committee so it is “owned” by all. When new strategies are implemented, gather data between meetings to assess effectiveness.

  • Authorize teachers to test attendance-boosting strategies, such as pairing students to encourage each other and hold one another responsible. Gather data on the impact and review them it every two weeks.

TEACH IN A WAY THAT ENGAGES STUDENTS

  • Create measurable interim goals that the students can reach to experience success en route to graduation. This helps keep them engaged and reduces the likelihood they leave.

  • Use Collaborative Group Work, Literacy Groups, and other classroom strategies that build relationships among students.

  • Start the mini-mesters just after exit exams are held. This gives students who otherwise might skip school while waiting for their test results an incentive to continue to attend school.

PROVIDE SOCIAL SERVICES THAT ENABLE STUDENTS TO ATTEND

  • Provide transportation, meals on site, and connections to social service agencies that provide child care.

FOLLOW UP IMMEDIATELY ON ABSENCES

Identify a full-time community liaison to serve as the key point person for attendance outreach. His/her responsibilities include:

  1. Collecting attendance reports from teachers twice a day (for morning and afternoon sessions) from a folder outside each classroom door
  2. Calling students to determine why they are absent and when they will return, or arranging for other staff who know the students to call absent students
  3. Making home visits to students who are chronically absent or at risk of dropping out again to help them problem solve and to motivate them to return to school
  4. Reporting to the principal on student attendance and follow-up activities twice a day
  5. Scheduling and convening the attendance committee

the mentoring class at ccta

The mentoring class at the College, Career & Technology Academy, held weekly for an hour, has several functions. It is first and foremost a “college knowledge” class, supporting the development of an explicit college-going culture by teaching students key information about how to succeed in college: what a course hour is, what the FAFSA is, etc. This differentiates it from the College Success class, in which students learn how to study for a college-level class and set SMART goals. In the mentoring class, students check on their progress on their SMART goals.

The mentoring class is also a place where students get guidance and support. The students who meet together for first and second period, which tends to be a student’s main class, are together in mentor class, with the same teacher. This teacher is responsible for knowing the students in his/her mentor class on a personal basis. This group of students grows to know one another, creating a cohort.

 

Key principles for a mentoring class

PROVIDE A CURRICULUM FOR TEACHERS TO ENSURE COHERENCE ACROSS CLASSES AND STAFF

At CCTA,

  • The academic counselor completed a College Board training class to prepare her to create the mentor class curriculum, drawing upon the College Counseling Sourcebook: Advice and Strategies from Experienced School Counselors.
  • Each month the counselor creates lesson plans for the mentor classes, and she delivers those to the teachers. Delivered in a binder, the plams include an overview of the topics for the month, learning activities, and materials.
  • Shared lesson plans ensure that the counselor and the teachers are providing the students with the same consistent information.
  • The principal monitors the mentor classes to make sure everyone is on track.

PAIR UP STUDENTS SO EACH STUDENT HAS A PEER KEEPING TRACK OF THEM

  • All students are assigned a partner, someone who is in their first period and mentor class. Partners are responsible for making sure their partners get to school and sharing notes and homework assignments if their partner is absent. The students themselves established the guidelines for what they will do if their partner is missing from class.

Ensuring student-centered facilities

The facility for the College, Career & Technology Academy enhances the program.

This overview provides guidelines on how to ensure the facility itself supports the goals of the program. The accompanying tools–Facilities Checklist and Facilities Planning & Workplan-offer a self-assessment and planning process for those seeking to choose or adapt a facility.

 

Key principles for student-centered facilities

ESTABLISH A FACILITY THAT WORKS FOR YOUNG ADULTS

  • PSJA identified a separate facility for the school.  Many potential CCTA students will not return to a traditional high school, and some educators–and parents–may be concerned about students in their early 20s in the same building as younger high school students.  And CCTA students may need a clean break from the students in the facility where they fell off track. 
  • The PSJA facility that is accessible and inviting. It is also helpful to find a facility that is accesible by public transportation (if there are any) and has parking.  These are key steps in creating a space that older, busy students will attend. Commercial properties that have adequate parking lots, bathrooms, and space can be renovated to offer the required minimum: at least eight classrooms to accomodate full enrollment, a cafeteria, a student lounge, and staff offices.
  •  If a separate facility is not possible, create a self-contained school within the high school.
  1. Establish a separate entrance and separate area for the school.
  2. Make sure high school bells do not ring in the CCTA area.
  3. Designate a portion of the parking area for CCTA students.
  4. Make the space as “college-like” as possible, following the principles below.

OUTFIT THE FACILITY IN A WAY THAT RESPECTS THE STUDENTS

  • CCTA is clean with new and inviting furniture.  Many “alternative” schools are furnished with cast-off furniture and equipment, conveying the sense that the students are less desirable. By furnishing the facility with the same quality items found in any new facility in the district, students and faculty understand the school to be valued and permanent.

FOSTER A COLLEGE-GOING CULTURE IN THE FACILITY

  • CCTA decorates the hall walls with college posters.
  • At CCTA, achievements of CCTA students are celebrated on bulletin boards.
  • Colleges don’t ring bells; CCTA does not, either. 

CREATE A SPACE THAT BUILDS COMMUNITY

  • Colleges have student lounges. Outfit a room with couches and coffee and encourage students to interact before and after class.

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