NPT Reports on the Immigrant Side of the Dropout Crisis in `Translating the Dream`

American Graduate

Half-hour documentary presented as part of NPT’s ‘American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen’ Initiative; airs Thursday, October 4 at 9:30 p.m.

NASHVILLE, Tennessee – October 3, 2012 – According the Tennessee Department of Education 2011 Report Card , the graduation rate for among English Language Learners (ELL) students in the state in was 70%, compared to 85% for all students. In Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), even fewer ELL students graduate: 64%.*

In the new special, “NPT Reports: Translating the Dream,” Nashville Public Television (NPT) takes an in-depth look at the graduation rate among ELL and immigrant students in Tennessee; the challenges they face that can prevent them from graduating on time; how schools and teachers are trying to address this increasingly demanding need; and how all of us are impacted when students drop out of school. The half-hour documentary, part of the American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen initiative, airs Thursday, October 4 at 9:30 p.m. on NPT-Channel 8.

Produced and narrated by veteran journalist LaTonya Turner, “NPT Reports: Translating the Dream” introduces the viewer to students whose stories exemplify some of the reasons that prevent ELL and immigrant students from achieving at the same level as other students.  For some, the main challenge is learning a new language: MNPS has the highest percentage of ELL students of any school district in Tennessee, with more than 135 languages spoken among MNPS students.

Also discussed in the documentary is the challenge of “unschooled” ELL students, a reference to those students who have not had formal education until arriving in this country—mainly due to being refugees. Social and cultural factors also create obstacles for immigrant students, even those who are not ELL. And undocumented students face additional hurdles and disincentives that result from not having access to similar benefits that come with legal citizenship.

“While many factors contribute to the wide gap in graduation rates,” says Turner, “educators we spoke to point to the state’s new method of calculating grad rates.”

In 2011, the formula for a student to graduate on time and earn a regular diploma switched from a requirement of 5 years and up to age 22, to 4 years and up to age 18.

“The loss of more than a full year to educate students is especially noticeable among ELL, immigrant, and special education students,” adds Turner. “The strategies for addressing this challenge vary among school districts and even among teachers. Many educators admitted that it’s an experimental process to find what works for the students they work with at any given time.”

NPT will address some of these solutions and strategies in a second documentary scheduled to air in November.

About Nashville Public Television

Nashville Public Television is available free and over the air to nearly 2.4 million people throughout the Middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky viewing area, and is watched by more than 600,000 households every week. The mission of NPT is to provide, through the power of traditional television and interactive telecommunications, high quality educational, cultural and civic experiences that address issues and concerns of the people of the Nashville region, and which thereby help improve the lives of those we serve.

About American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen

American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen is helping local communities identify and implement solutions to the high school dropout crisis. American Graduate demonstrates public media’s commitment to education and its deep roots in every community it serves. Beyond providing programming that educates, informs and inspires, public radio and television stations — locally owned and operated — are an important resource in helping to address critical issues, such as the dropout rate.

In addition to national programming, more than 75 public radio and television stations have launched on-the-ground efforts working with community and at risk youth to keep students on-track to high school graduation. More than 800 partnerships have been formed locally through American Graduate, and CPB is working with Alma and Colin Powell’s America’s Promise Alliance and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation .

About CPB
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967, is the steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting. It helps support the operations of more than 1,300 locally-owned and -operated public television and radio stations nationwide, and is the largest single source of funding for research, technology, and program development for public radio, television and related online services.

*[1] TDOE Report Card

NPT Reports: Average Students Become High Achievers with the AVID Program

Leann Norrod has big dreams.

“My goals are to get into Watkins university and get my degree for photography, and then to work for National Geographic,” says Norrod.

But the high school senior didn’t always see herself as college-bound, or even making it out of high school. “Before I just thought what does school matter? I’m going to come in, chill, and maybe graduate if I get there.”

But then, something changed. She enrolled in the at her school and suddenly found herself enjoying her classes, and making goals for herself. AVID, or Advancement via Individual Determination, is a program that aims to transform average students into high achievers ready to take on college.

“AVID is a college-readiness system that targets kids in the academic middle and accelerates them and doesn’t remediate them. So we push them up into advanced classes that prepare them for college and give them a support class every single year of high school,” says Jessica Seator, AVID coordinator at Hillsboro High School who also teaches an AVID support class.

In the support class, students work on areas like developing better note-taking skills, organization, and critical thinking. Upperclassmen do ACT prep, practice writing college essays and scholarship applications, and visit college campuses.

“The format of the AVID classroom is different. It’s not a study hall, it’s not just a study skills clas,s or a lesson in how to keep a neat binder. AVID has a curriculum. Then, because we have increased the level of vigor that they’re taking in their classes, we’re going to provide academic support. So we organized the classroom into student led tutorial groups,” says Seator.

“We’re not feeding them that fish as the parable says. We’re teaching them how to fish.”

Leann Norrod says her biggest struggle in school has always been math and science.

“But when we do tutorials…your avid family is there showing you how to get the answers and everything to get to that point,” says Norrod.

Despite the fact that AVID has had a in graduating its students from high school, some Metro Nashville Public schools had to pull the program due to funding and staffing issues. Jessica Seator of Hillsboro High School gave up her planning period to teach the class. She says she did not want to let her students down, especially since they had already invested in the program from the start of their high school career.

“I found great kids, smart kids who are college material—who may walk a little different, talk a little different, look a little different than your average college going freshman—that that have started the process of changing their academic future,” says Seator.

AVID, however, is more than just a support class for these students; it’s a family. Antorian Moore saw his GPA jump from a 1.9 to 3.5 after enrolling in AVID, but he has found the most value in the relationships he’s built.

“Ms. Seator, she’s like a mother to me. I thought that school was very boring. And Ms. Seator, she makes it exciting. She brings things to the table that other teachers would just give you and go. She actually tries to explain things to us,” says Moore.

“She takes care of us. If you need something and she has it she’ll just gladly give it to you. If you need help, like if you’re having a bad day…she’ll talk to you.”

Seator fought back tears as she explained the larger role she plays in her students’ lives.

“As an avid teacher you do become the mother, father, or parental figure. And it’s not always because the students don’t have that family, it’s because their family don’t have the experience to help them. So yes, having that one teacher who has your back, who’s supporting you, who’s not letting you have excuses? That is the avid family.”

The walls of the AVID classroom frequently remind students of where they would be if it wasn’t for the program. They are surrounded with “cardboard confessionals”—a senior tradition for the students in which they write who they were before the AVID program on the front, and on the back, who they became with the help of AVID.

“So, they’re everything from ‘walked out on at two years old, and now I’m graduating at 16,” says Seator.

“My favorite cardboard confession is ‘set free by challenge.’ And I think that’s the most important one because they’re great kids, they’re average kids. They might be okay without it, but they’re set free because we challenge them and then they find out they have skills and strengths they didn’t even know about.”

NPT Reports: Heading off Concussions in School Sports

When it comes to playing football, Tennessee Athletic Director Chris Snoddy has a word of advice: take the head out of it.

“I think we want to do more with the heads than we used to, the head has kind of become a big thing. Part of the influence of the NFL everyone wants to make a big hit,” says Chris Snoddy, President of the Tennessee Athletic Trainers Society.

Making a big hit may mean the risk of concussion.  Snoddy says that concussions are no longer taken lightly in sports; they are traumatic brain injuries, and could mean keeping an athlete on the sidelines for several weeks. The Centers for Disease Control reports that sports-related concussions in the U.S have reached an epidemic level, with around 1.6 to 3.8 million sports-related concussions in the United States every year.

“I think we’re more aware of concussions and we’re more focused on concussions now.  Twenty years ago you just kind of played through it because you didn’t know any better as an athlete, and you know everybody kind of got their bell rung, or what they called ‘the dinger,’” says Snoddy.

But football isn’t always the culprit.  High school athlete Cole Porter got a concussion while wakeboarding.

“I went up for a jump and I just came down wrong, and I landed headfirst. When I came back up I was little dizzy. And when I got back to the boat I had just a major headache, and that kind of set it off,” says Porter.

Signs and symptoms of concussions can include headache, dizziness, loss of memory, confusion, loss of consciousness, ringing in the ears, and nausea or vomiting.

Athletic trainer Chris Snoddy says that the athletes he sees are involved in multiple sports that put them at risk for concussion. 

“Soccer and cheerleading have very high concussion rates, cheerleading may have the highest,” says Snoddy.

Before his team’s practice, Porter took a balance test. The test, which includes various movements like standing on one foot, gauges concussion recovery. Tennessee is one of only five states in the nation that currently has no existing or pending legislation around concussion testing.  However, most high schools already follow guidelines for preventing and managing concussions set by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association.

There are various ways student athletes can prevent concussions, though wearing a helmet isn’t always one of them.

“The helmet and the head does not need to be the primary contact point.  The helmets were designed to prevent skull fractures, they do a great job at preventing skull fractures.  And that was a problem fifty or sixty years ago.  No one gets a skull fracture hardly playing football anymore because of helmets,” says Snoddy.

“But just like you can bust the yoke of an egg by shaking it, and never break the shell, the same is true with concussions.  And the brain inside the skull.”

So just how do you prevent the yolk from getting broken?

“One great way to prevent concussions is to teach your athletes to hit the right way…using the shoulder pads, using the forearm. It’s also good for your athletic trainer, your coach and your parents and your athlete to have a very honest and open dialog saying my son has got hurt doing this other thing…so we can protect him and hold him out of activities until he’s safe to return.”

NPT Reports: Higher Pay Brings New Teachers to Nashville

More than 200 new public school teachers in Nashville sat as students recently during a four-day training in the New Teacher Induction Program. It’s a regular event this time of year for Metro Nashville Public Schools. But this time, there are significant changes, including a new format focusing on major content areas like classroom management, technology, and teaching strategies for English Language Learners.

“Our new teacher induction is much more intensive than it has been previously…and it’s making our first year teachers be able to get on board much more quickly and be successful,” says Earl Wiman, who works in MNPS Human Resources.

The biggest change of all is what may have attracted many of the 200 new teachers to MNPS in the first place: $40,000 starting pay.

“It’s been difficult for us to hire teachers, because so many urban districts outside pay more,” says Wiman. “With the $40,000 starting salary, that’s allowed us to be much more competitive.”

More than 113 languages are spoken in Metro Nashville Public Schools, which was a significant reason why English Language Learners (ELL) was a major focus of the training.

“I am nervous about teaching in a classroom that would have a high rate of English-language learners simply because…it would be hard maybe for me to tell whether I’m being effective until it is time for that unit test,” says first-year teacher Michael Mixon, who will be teaching middle school math and science.

Nashville public schools have the largest number of English Language Learners in Tennessee, according to Deana Conn, who is instructing the class.

Some students– it’s very clear that they’re not proficient in English…and they have very specific needs about really helping them understand the content,” says Conn. “And then there’s the other category of students who come into the classroom speaking very well and they sort of sneak by teachers and teachers don’t realize that really…they’re not academically proficient.”

In the ELL workshop, teachers were given information about specific population breakdowns, learning the ELL lingo, and different cultural considerations and their impact.

One teacher simply asked what seemed to be on everyone else’s mind: how do you teach someone something in English if you don’t know his or her language?

It’s important to make sure that teachers are thinking of visuals or how can they make sure their students understand what they’re telling…and can they do things that are hands-on and interactive to help them really grasp what’s going on,” says Conn.

Even as a new math teacher, Michael Mixon says he found great benefit in learning unique teaching strategies for dealing with English Language Learners.

“They are pushing us to use literacy and verbal skills, even in math classes, so this will be very helpful especially if you’re dealing with high-level math problems like word problems,” says Mixon.

“Also it’s kind of given me insight to dealing with how English language learners would deal with number sense. Different cultures are going to have different number sense, so things that seem obvious to me as a math teacher that was born and raised the United States may not necessarily be obvious to a student from a completely different culture.”

The real test for teachers will be when classes begin August first.

School District Rankings Listed by TDOE

Rutherford County Schools (RCS) get high marks in rankings released by the Tennessee Department of Education.  RCS and Franklin Special School District are the only two in middle Tennessee on the list of those achieving “exemplary” status—meaning they met targets during the 2011-2012 school year.

The rankings are the first since the state’s new accountability system under a waiver from No Child Left Behind standards.  21 school districts achieved the highest ranking of Exemplary.  That means those systems met three requirements, according to TDOE:

  1. Raised proficiency levels on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests;
  2. Made substantial progress in closing gaps between groups of students;
  3. Ensured improvement for racial minorities, as well as students with disabilities, limited English proficiency and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) was not on the list released today by the state.
But MNPS officials last week stated the district has moved up to “intermediate” status after being under warning by the state in the last few years. That was due, in large part, to the student performance on this year’s TCAPs (Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program).

“To fall into the intermediate category, you have to show growth in the majority of your goals and all of your sub-population sub-groups also have to show improvement,” says Dr. Jesse Register, MNPS director of schools.

Watch the video (right) to hear more from Dr. Register about MNPS performance on state assessment and under the new accountability system.

Elsewhere in the area, four school systems are listed as failing to meet learning goals for some groups of students. They are Cheatham county Schools, Wilson County Schools, Lebanon City Schools and  Murfreesboro City Schools.  These districts are among those in the state labeled as In Need of Improvement. They will meet in-person with TDOE officials to set an aggressive, effective plan to meet the goals they missed in 20011-2012.

To view the a complete list of districts designated as: Exemplary, In Need of Improvement and In Need of Subgroup Improvement, go to the TDOE website.

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Art2STEM: Nudging Girls toward Science, Math

Here is a theory on how to motivate more girls to be interested in science and math: connect those subjects to art and creativity.

That’s the goal of an all-girls program in Nashville called Art2STEM. It’s a year-round program, but this summer, 50 girls spent a week mixing art with science—painting and making pretty objects while also inventing designing concepts to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges.

“The two places we’re dealing with are Sudan and Somalia,” explains Carlotta, an 8th grade participant in Art2STEM. “Sudan is kind of a country that’s poor and their water is contaminated, and we thought about making a solar-powered water purifier. And since solar power uses heat, we thought about changing it using the heat to make it cool–  so the water would be cold and purified.”

Such big ideas are typical at this camp.  The girls work in groups, focusing on various countries and their challenges or unique characteristics. After doing research, each group plans and designs an invention or concept for its country.

Besides Africa, another group focuses on South America. Bayleigh, the group spokesperson, says their idea is to capitalize on tourists’ interest in the many landmarks that are located high atop steep mountains by using ziplines—with a twist.

“We could have something like a hologram guide to tell them something about it… and have like traditional foods and patterns on the seats, music and headphones,” says Bayleigh. “And maybe not just be a straight shot so they can drag it out as they’re going up.”

For this week, it doesn’t matter how extreme the ideas are. The point is to get these middle school girls focused on STEM—and not the kind you find on a flower; STEM as in science, engineering, technology, and math. Those subjects can be daunting to any student. But  girls also can be influenced by myths and stereotypes, according to camp coaches.

“I don’t think anybody has told them that they couldn’t do these things; it’s just  a matter of what they’re used to seeing, so called women’s roles or women’s jobs,” says Deborah Smith,  who has a Ph.D. in math.

Smith teaches middle school math. But as a coach for Art2STEM, she’s also a role model.

 “As a female who is a math major, that wasn’t something that girls did. That was a guy’s thing,” says Smith. “ But I try to encourage my girls.  Girls are actually smarter than boys in math!”

Smith laughs, but says there’s truth to her statement.  She believes girls are just as smart or smarter at math than boys, but boys receive more encouragement.

“[Teachers] often call on the boys more so than the girls in math class. So the girls don’t get to show that side of themselves.  And then in middle school, it might not be cool to be that smart girl in math class,” says Smith.

Destroying such perceptions is important to Art2STEM sponsors: Alignment Nashville and Adventure Science Center.

“Historically we know that girls by 5th grade have not been encouraged to pursue science and math,” says Susan Duvenhage, president of Adventure Science Center. “It may be from the home—parents seeing the son and the daughter and this perception that the son is going to do well in science and math and the daughter will not.  So we are trying to address that.”

Duvenhage says surveys of girls before and after they participate in Art2STEM show a 30-percent increase in interest in STEM. The girls at the camp seem to affirm that finding.

“I now want to be a chemical engineer because of Art2STEM… because of what it showed me,” says Bayleigh. “It’s teaching me how I can look and invent things, and innovate things. And so, If I do that more, we could all find something and make it better than it already is.”

 And programs like this are even causing some to re-think the meaning of STEM, according to  Smith.

“It’s called STEAM, instead of STEM– science, technology, engineering, art, and math because art is very much a part of each.”


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NPT Reports: STEM Boot Camp for Teachers

When it comes to science class, some teachers are just as intimidated as their students.

“I was a little nervous because I know nothing about science,” says Dorcas Wallace, an experienced middle school teacher who was recently asked to teach the  4th grade science classes at her school. “It meant I had to go back and do a lot of research and everything.”

Wallace spent a week this summer in Nashville attending a teacher boot camp for STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math.

About 2 dozen middle school teachers from across Tennessee came together at Adventure Science Center in a quest to learn how to make science and math more interesting for their students. For most, it means stepping out of their comfort zones

 “Get to know your squid!” barks the leader of the boot camp. She wears camouflage, boots, and paces the room like a sergeant, overseeing the teachers as they dissect their squids.

Most of the teachers at this boot camp teach some science; but few are trained as science teachers. Their challenge is not in knowing the content—but how to effectively deliver it, says Detra Thomas, who has taught 8th grade science for 14 years.

“We were not taught to teach this way; and this is a much more fun way of learning,” says Thomas. “It’s hands on. It’s more fun for us!”

It can also be a little messy, as Thomas learned first hand when squid juice squirted in her eye and on her sweater during the dissection.

“I thought I did everything right, but when I cut into it, the ink just squirted all over me,” laughs Thomas. “It was a little bit of a scare, but that’s okay. We cleaned up okay! And the kids would love it!”

Science should be fun, according to officials with Adventure Science Center. But there is nothing fun  about the state of science education in this country.

 “The United States, who put a man on the moon decades ago, now is 17th ranked out of 30 in industrial nations in our kids being prepared and proficient in science,” says Susan Duvenhage, president of Adventure Science Center.

Duvenhage says this boot camp is itself an experiment– the first to connect the center’s professional science and technology educators with school teachers for training. She hopes the camp will catch on.

“80% of the teachers in teaching now don’t have a special certification in science. It’s a general certification,” explains Duvenhage. “So we like to think that by offering the STEM Boot Camp, it’s an opportunity for the teachers to become comfortable with science in a fun hands-on approachable way that will also resonate with their kids.”

Thomas believes the result will be a chain reaction.

“When other students that are in 6th or 7th grade hear from my students what we’ve done in Ms. Thomas’ class and we’ve either blown this up, or we’ve cut this apart.  It’s not the paperwork, it’s not the book work, it’s a hands-on type of learning.“


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NPT Reports: Good Food = Better Students

Anthony Geraci is a food and nutrition expert who has a tall order. He oversees the massive central kitchen and the entire food service system for Memphis (Tennessee) City Schools. But he was hired to do more than plan the 100-thousand meals served in the school system each day.

“Putting healthy kids in front of educators ready to learn, that’s the product. That’s what I’m supposed to produce,” says Geraci, executive director of child nutrition for the school district.

“Child nutrition is readiness. It is one of the tools for success in public education, that hungry kids don’t learn and kids that have great nutrition are prepared to learn. So one of the mandates that [Memphis City Schools] gave me was make this happen.”

In just 6 months on the job, Geraci has made significant changes to the program. One of the first of his sweeping mandates: Geraci cancelled all contracts for cookies, Pop Tarts, flavored milk, and what he calls “food on a stick” and “carnival food.”

“The major changes that we made are just the commitment to local, fresh, cooked-from-scratch delivery. We have launched the largest demonstration school garden project in the state’s history, where actually the food being grown [here] will be served in the cafeterias in just a few weeks.”

Geraci also expanded school meals to include after-school and breakfast service. This is all new to Memphis. But Geraci first launched his school meal initiative in Baltimore City Schools, turning an abandoned property into a huge organic farm to feed public school kids. He is also part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative to fight childhood obesity, been featured in two documentaries, and has become sort of a national celebrity when it comes to public school food service—with an increasing number of believers.

“I have a lot of anecdotal evidence from teachers and principals that will tell you that kids that are eating, there’s fewer behavior problems, there’s better test scores, there’s — definitely fewer visits to the nurse’s office.”

Geraci’s experiences are being backed by a growing amount of data showing his concepts and practices make a difference in the classroom—especially in the case of breakfast programs. According to the Food Research and Action Center and Harvard scientists, students who eat school breakfast increase their math and reading scores as well as improve their speed and memory in cognitive tests. They also have better attendance, fewer behavior problems, and higher attention spans.

Geraci balks at the idea that his practices are is too expensive and inconvenient for many public school systems. He says the changes in Memphis have brought more student participation in the meal program, greatly increasing school system revenue. And buying locally-grown pumps millions of dollars into the community’s economy.

“The reality is fresh food local food ultimately cost less money. For every dollar that I can spend in my community, it flips five times before it leaves my community. So I’ll spend $10 million in buying fresh fruits and vegetables in western Tennessee that will have a $50 million economic impact in western Tennessee.”

NPT Reports: Charters Allowed to Convert Some Failing Public Schools

State education officials in Tennessee will allow select charter schools to take over ten low-performing public schools in Nashville and 31 in Memphis, beginning in 2013. The announcement is part of the Tennessee Achievement School District, an aggressive plan by the state to turn around failing schools as part of the federally-funded Race to the Top.


 “We have a real opportunity with what’s going on in Tennessee but more importantly what’s happening here in Nashville, for  Nashville not just to be known as Music City but as a city that’s leading the nation in creating a quality system of public schools for all kids,” says Chris Barbic, Achievement School District Superintendent.

The charter conversions of the public schools will be phased in, much like what is already happening in Nashville at Cameron Middle School. LEAD Academy took over the fifth grade in 2011, creating Cameron College Prep. Next school year, the charter program will add 6th grade, then another grade each year through 8th—until Cameron is all charter. (See video story here.)

LEAD Academy will begin a similar process this fall with Nashville’s Brick Church Middle School.

“To me, it’s not about charter schools, it’s not about private schools, it’s not about public schools,” says Dr. Jesse Register, MNPS Director of Schools. “It is about good schools for all children and that’s what we have to be about in this school system.”

Education officials have not said which public schools will be converted to charters.  However, the move is aimed at so-called “priority schools” – the ones that rank in the bottom five percent in student achievement in Tennessee. There are about 85 such schools altogether, with 69 of them located in Memphis.

Besides LEAD Academy, two other charter school operators will manage the take-overs.  They are KIPP Academy, which already operate a charter school in Nashville; and Rocketship Education, based in California.



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NPT Reports: Best Public High Schools Include Some in Tennessee

What does it take for a school to be labeled one of the best in the country? The faculty and students at Merrol Hyde Magnet School think they know the answer. The Hendersonville, Tennessee, school was listed among the best public high schools in the country by U.S. News in its annual ranking of schools.

Merrol Hyde is also ranked number three in Tennessee, joining Nashville’s Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet and Martin Luther King, Jr., Magnet, along with Brentwood High School as the top 4 public schools in Tennessee.

This is the first year Merrol Hyde has ranked that high, reaching the Gold Medal level, according to the principal, Brad Shreiner.

“We received silver distinction a couple of times and we were thrilled with that. But we’re always trying to go from good to great and we looked at what do we need to do to get that gold,” says Shreiner. “It was just a real morale booster!”

According to the U.S. News report, Gold Medal schools are the top 500 in preparing students for college. (The overall rankings also considers student test scores and other factors.) Shreiner believes that criterion sets Merrol Hyde apart: it’s a founding principle of the school, which serves students from kindergarten through 12th grade.)

“What we do here is we start talking about college in kindergarten. In the first week or two of school, the announcements are done by seniors. Seniors lead the pledge, they choose a song—but they also mention where they’re going to college and what they’re going to major in,” explains Shreiner. “The little ones hear that; kindergarten and first-grade students hear that. So they say to their first-grade teacher ‘What’s the difference in a college and a university? What’s a major? What’s a minor?’ So we set the tone early on that when you leave here you go to college and we talk about college… We do have 100% college-bound students.

Shreiner says it’s not just the responsibility of the school counselor to discuss college options with students.

“Since we have a very small school – we have 60 graduates or fewer every year—students talk to their history teachers about their best college fit for them, or their math teacher. So we’re all kind of college counselors in the high school level. They’ll talk to the librarian—not just the guidance college,” says Shreiner.

But she also credits how students learn in the years leading up to high school. Merrol Hyde uses the Paideia style of teaching, so classrooms rarely have a conventional lecture-style appearance.

It’s not uncommon to visit a classroom and find students huddled together while one of their classmates gives a lesson—and the teacher looks on.

“When you sit in a circle with your peers and you talk about the different way that something can be solved or you take an open-ended text and you have to pull it apart, I think that develops critical thinking,” says Shreiner. “Students are thinking more critically because they’ve been trained to do so since kindergarten.

“I would say one of the areas where they excel is in their communications skills. They know how to have a civil dialogue, and that prepares them for a job interview, for college, when they can communicate in a civil way with an adult. We’ve given them a skill that a lot of students don’t develop until they get to post-secondary education.”
Lesson learned, according to graduating senior Cam Burrus, who has attended Merrol Hyde since grade school.

“All the seniors that have graduated from here before tell me that they’re really prepared for college when they get here and it’s just an easy transition,” says Burrus.
Another high school student, Henry Holmes, also feels better prepared.

“I feel like our homework is more in-depth and [requires] more writing, really understanding the concept rather than just answering a few questions,” says Holmes.
Besides college preparedness, the U.S. News editors also look at other factors, such as student performance on state proficiency test, stating that “… a great high school must serve all of its students well, not just those who are college-bound, and that it must be able to produce measurable academic outcomes…”

Principal Shreiner admits Merrol Hyde serves a select group of students—only those who meet specific academic standards are accepted. But she says the U.S. News ranking shows that even high-achieving students can continue to make gains. She also believes that some of the strategies used at her school can be just as effective elsewhere—over time.

“ I think you have to set up the school as we were able to do, with the end in mind,” says Shreiner. “I don’t think you can just decide one day as the principal of a high school that’s got 15-hundred kids that ‘Now, we’re going to make everyone go to college.’ It doesn’t work that way. We were blessed to be able to start with that founding principle in place.”

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