Edmonds School District considers intervention program aimed helping at-risk students graduate

Edmonds School Board Superintendent Gustavo Balderas (top right) provides a school re-entry update at the Edmonds School Board’s April 12 business meeting.

Edmonds School District staff are looking to adopt a new program that would help underserved and at-risk middle and high school students not only graduate but also prepare for a future after high school.

AVID (Advance Via Individual Determination) aims to narrow the gap between the lowest- and highest-performing students and ensure more students enrolled in four-year colleges and universities. At its April 12 business meeting, the Edmonds School Board of Directors heard from staff how the program could help address a specific group of students not being served by other programs already in place in the district.

“These are students that are not getting to that level…that is needed for them to apply to colleges or really think about their careers after high school,” said Executive Director of Equity & Student Success Victor Vergara.

AVID was created in the 1980s and currently serves more than 2 million students across 7,500 school districts. Eligible students typically have between a 2.0 and 3.0 grade point average and are described as hardworking and dedicated, but need extra assistance. Other qualifiers include students from underrepresented racial/ethnic backgrounds, those from low socioeconomic status and students who would be the first in their family to go to college.

AVID is designed to cater to students at all grade levels; however, Vergara said the district plans to start with secondary students during the program’s first year with a five-year plan to offer it at all schools. During his time as a principal, Vergara said he implemented the program prior to coming to the Edmonds School District and spoke of the program’s success.

“I saw the transformation for many of our students going through AVID courses,” he said.

AVID would join other interventions programs the district has implemented over the years aimed at helping more students graduate high school. 

For the past seven years, the district’s graduation rate has held at 84%. During the briefing, Vergara and Assistant Superintendent Greg Schwab presented data to show disparities in advanced education courses in middle school students that they said ultimately impact their high school educations.

Looking at seventh grade students, 14% (or 243) of the more than 1,700 students are taking algebra. However, the number of Latino students enrolled in some advanced courses is disproportionate to their white peers. For example, Latinos account for 22.76% of the district’s seventh-grade class, but of that only 7.81% are taking algebra. Additionally, students enrolled in bilingual education programs, 12.18% are Latino and none are taking algebra.

Based on 2020 graduation data, Vergara said only 35% of Edmonds School District graduates went on to enroll in a four-year university and 25% have gone to a two-year college or career and technical college (CTC) within their first year of graduating. After that, Vergara noted that 89% went on to enroll in a four-year university and 63% have gone to a two-year college or (CTC) with 33% and 13% earning a degree, respectively.

“The idea is to talk about different subgroups for why they need interventions,” he said.

During the discussion, Board Director Nancy Katims pointed out it would be beneficial to know what is happening with students who do not graduate and how they could be reached.

“If we can figure that out I think we should be tailoring interventions to try to address the reasons those kids are dropping out or not finishing,” she said.

According to Schwab, those students typically fall into two categories — they either come back and do a fifth year or they drop out early during their high school education and the distinct loses track of them.

The district currently has several intervention courses at schools across the district aimed at supporting students that they can take in place of an elective course. At a high school level, Schwab said there are a robust set of interventions, like credit retrieval courses, that are offered during the school day or as a seventh-period course. 

Last September, the board approved a one-year contract with Graduation Alliance, which works to re-engage students who have dropped out of school and offers them a flexible and supportive online learning program to help them complete and graduate high school. According to Vergara, of the 50 students enrolled, five have graduated, two more will graduate at the end of the month and 20 more are expected to graduate at the end of this school year.

“We’re really excited about the work Graduation Alliance has done for our district in terms of really going out and finding those students we lost track of and bringing them back into the district again,” Schwab said.

Based on data from a 2017 study that looked at 44,000 students, 93% completed their four-year college entrance requirements, 78% took one course of rigor, 30% took college-dual enrollment courses. According to the saem data, 88% students applied to — and 79% were accepted — a four-year college. Additionally, 37% of students who applied to a two-year college or CTC were accepted.

AVID classrooms are set up with college readiness in mind and teachers act as facilitators. Lessons include inquiry-based activities using critical thinking, higher-level thinking and reading and writing to learn.

“AVID teachers design classroom activities to allow students to take the ownership of the content,” Schwab said.

Looking at an AVID schedule, Mondays and Tuesdays are designated for AVID curriculum, Wednesdays and Thursdays are set for tutorials and Friday are reserved for student evaluations, field trips, guest speakers, and motivational and team building exercises.

Staff have outlined a plan to implement the program across the district over the next five years. During the first year, AVID would be offered at Alderwood Middle and Meadowdale Middle schools for eighth graders at a cost of $60,000. Each year would see more schools offering AVID at a total cost of $182,000 by its fifth year. The cost would cover the AVID membership, three days of summer training for 32 staff members, AVID’s curriculum and programs and district leadership training.

To cover the cost, Schwab said the district would take advantage of an Office of Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) grant that is renewable each year.

Also during the meeting, the board received a re-entry update after third-through sixth-grade students returned to school buildings on Monday. 

“It’s great to see the kids up and around the campuses,” said Superintendent Gustavo Balderas.

The district is currently in Stage 3 of its school building re-entry plan. According to Balderas, they will remain in Stage 3 for the remainder of the school year. He also said staff continue to assess what the fall will look like and added that plans for the 2021-22 school year are contingent on contract negotiations with faculty and staff unions as well as the “ever-changing guidance that comes out from the (Washington) Department of Health. However, he did say there may be a need to have a full remote-learning option for students in the fall.

As of now, 65% of students have returned to in-person learning and the remaining students are still in remote learning. So far, students have been adapted well to returning to classrooms, said Assistant Superintendent Dana Geaslen.

“They’re wearing masks, they’re staying distanced (and) they’re doing a fantastic job of washing their hands,” she said.

Students in grades 7-12 who choose to return to in-person learning will do so on April 19.

Staff also highlighted some mental health supports for students and staff which include school counselors and psychiatrists offering in person services. Middle and high schools have designated advisory times, meaning every school has time for an advisory period.

“Our goal really here is to create that opportunity for a warm welcome and for students to re-engage in school and have a sense of connectedness as we wrap up the school year,” said Executive Director of Student Learning Rob Baumgartner.

According to staff, 205 students have sought referrals for mental health services.

Staff also announced the district will be participating in a pilot project that would allow students and staff experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to perform self-administered tests at school buildings.

Geaslen said the project will initially be offered at three sites starting April 26 before later beginning implemented at all other schools. The project is a partnership with the Washington Department of Health and allows anyone 4 years or older — with a parent or guardian’s permission — who may be experiencing symptoms at school, to go to the school’s COVID-19 containment room, self test and then go home and receive results in 48 hours.

The project will start at Meadowdale High, Meadowdale Middle and Spruce Elementary schools. Other schools are expected to join them by May 10.

–By Cody Sexton

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