Design II Showcase

Goal Area: Instructional Quality

“Freshman year is the most critical year to ensure that students are going to finish and graduate from high school,” says Fort Vancouver High School teacher Corey Russell. To support ninth-graders, Hudson’s Bay, Skyview, Columbia River and Fort Vancouver high schools offer Freshman Academies, designed to equip freshmen with social, academic and organizational skills that will allow them to make successful transitions from middle school to high school. Fort’s program offers blocked core classes, strong support from five teachers and lessons that help students develop study skills. Freshman Academy also works toward reducing failure rates; helping students maintain their on-time graduation status; and improving vital student connections to staff, peers and the school community.

“The model is really a school within a school,” Russell says. “We focus on creating a community feel within our group of students.”

The program targets “the invisible students, the ones who might slip through the cracks,” she says. During the 2013-14 school year, the Fort academy served 82 students, who maintained a higher average grade point average than a cross-section of other freshman at benchmark status. Twenty-five of the students landed on the school’s Honor Roll. And the absence and failure rates also were lower for Freshman Academy students than for a cross-section of their peers.

But do students think that Freshman Academy helps them be successful? A survey of the students revealed that 92 percent feel that the academy helped them make the transition to high school, and 94 percent said they now feel prepared for their sophomore year. In addition, 94 percent would recommend the academy to next year’s freshmen.

“The relationships that we’ve built—the kids know the door’s always open, and it’s not just a one-way door. We’ll be going to their doors as well to make sure that they’re doing the right thing,” said Fort Freshman Academy teacher Ben Jatos. “All of us have a list of a dozen kids that are under our watch that we’re not going to let fail. That’s going to last all four years.”