Ninth Grade Academy Planner: Skills + Motivation = Success

I'm proud to have been part of the creation of two small learning communities – a Ninth Grade Academy and a Summer Prep School for at-risk learners. In each case, we first assembled a team of educators to forge a common vision of teaching and learning. Then schools were organized to accomplish this vision.

As a consultant, I've had the opportunity to share my practical experience with educators from across the country. See my website Small Learning Communities that Work for more info.

Last week, I had the opportunity to work with a talented group of teachers and administrators from Helena-West Helena School District in Arkansas. We put the finishing touches on plans for a new ninth grade academy. Their development began earlier this school year with strategic planning and site visits. To get our work started, I sent them this NGA-planning-guide (40KB pdf) in advance.  Their responses were a great starting point for our two-day session. By the time we concluded, we had produced a detailed implementation plan as well as mission, "mantra" and key features. As I reminded the team, you need a concise response to the question you'll get in the grocery store, "So what's this new ninth grade academy?"

Judging from the session evaluations, participants felt ready for the academy launch. 

"This workshop helped us catch the "ah-ha's" that we never thought of."

"The best part was the collaborative efforts, insights and involvement."

"Thank you for increasing the momentum."

"Our roles and goals are now clearly defined."

Mission Statement – Our mission is to create a safe and supportive environment to enable students to make a successful academic and personal transition to high school. The NGA will provide students with the skills and motivation necessary to take increasing responsibility for reaching their college and career aspirations.

NGA Mantra:  Skills + Motivation = Success 

Ninth Grade Academy Key Features

1. Dedicated Space: Located in the 9/10 building on the first hall. Each room in the NGA contains a SmartBoard that will be utilized during classroom instructions. The space will provide a safe and supportive environment to assist students in transition to the high school. 

2. Team of Teachers/Administrators: The ninth grade academy will be led by the principal, Mrs. Davis along with the team of teachers. This staff will be trained and dedicated to working specifically with the incoming ninth grade class. The goal is that each teacher will become familiar with all students academically and personally. This will support the familial environment of the NGA. 

3. Student-Centered Approach to Learning: Teachers will be trained in instructional strategies that support students taking increasing responsibility for their learning. 

4. High Expectations: The NGA administration and teachers will hold students to a clearly defined set of high expectations, both academically and behaviorally. 

5. Curriculum Designed to Support Skills and Motivation: In addition to the state mandated curriculum, a new course designed specifically for freshmen will be instituted. This course will focus on skill development, life-long learning, and career exploration. 

6. Timely Communication to Parents and Community: Online Engrade updates will be available to parents and students. In addition, parents will receive regularly individualized student reports. Via the district website and other district communications, the community will be updated on the progress of the Ninth Grade Academy. 

Photo credit: Flickr: Leeroy09481

Summer Academies that Support Ninth Grade Transition

A recent issue of Education Week featured a ninth grade transition program that combats the drop-out problem associated with movement from middle to high school – see “Pittsburgh Building ‘Nation’ of 9th Graders.” Education Week, August 29, 2007

The idea was to target not just the teenagers’ heads, but also their hearts. A week of getting used to their new schools, befriending their classmates and teachers, and undertaking adventures together was designed to forge what district officials are calling a “9th Grade Nation”—a freshman class that moves through high school feeling supported and confident.  Read 9grade-Nation (98KB pdf)

Reading about this program reminded me of a summer program that I designed and served as founding director from 1999-2000. The "Summer Prep Program" targeted students exiting 5th – 8th grade who were academically at-risk.  Elementary, middle and high school teachers (and a dedicated school nurse) delivered a specially designed three-week curriculum designed to engage students in their learning and foster a positive attitude towards school. A dozen high school and college interns assisted in the program, serving as positive role models and establishing friendships that will extend into the school year.  Summer Prep produced excellent results with nearly one-half of our students improving their grades in three or four of their core courses.

Specially trained teams of teachers provide daily instruction in English, math, technology, library research, learning and organizational skills. Each grade was divided into small sections. Classes were held from 8 AM – 11 AM, Monday – Thursday. Preprocks Each Friday was reserved for an activity day – indoor wall climbing, ropes, obstacle courses, kayaking, and even a juggling workshop.  As one parent wrote about the program "The Summer Prep School was the best thing that could have happened to my daughter this summer. She struggled throughout the school year – and with the frustration of struggling, she lost confidence and enthusiasm for school in general. However, this excellent program spurred in her a renewed interest in learning. Every day as I picked her up, she had a fun and exciting anecdote to tell me about. She absolutely loved her writing class – believe it showed as I am leafing through her folder tonight at Open House. I would like to thank Mr. Pappas for his extreme enthusiasm and support of our daughter at a very difficult personal as well as scholastic juncture in her life."

The cooperation and teamwork of parent, student and teacher is essential to success. Parents’ workshops were offered to support and inform the parents with practical activities and techniques in communications, discipline, academic support and problem solving.

As one parent wrote about the parenting workshops "Over the last 4 weeks – my relationship with my daughter has grown by leaps and bounds!! This program has helped me to identify the behaviors she exhibits that trigger me to get upset. The whole family has had benefits, especially with improvements in communications. More concrete boundaries and expectations have been established and our family life had been more relaxed, peaceful, and less stressful. Thank you for offering our expertise. I have looked forward to Tuesday evenings this summer."

Visit an archived version of the Summer Prep School website and read more about the program in the SAANYS Journal. Find out more about Summer Prep and Ninth Grade Academies at Small Learning Academies that Work.

“Strategies for Student Success” Oregon Summer Institute

This past week I traveled to Portland Oregon to present four workshops at the 2006 Superintendent’s Statewide Conference sponsored by the Oregon Department of Education.  More on the conference.  Each workshop considered Rigor, Relevance and Literacy from a different perspective. In two sessions we used my TurningPoint audience response system to gather feedback and guide our discussion. TurningPoint can produce a variety of reports and can even track results by individual responder. Want to know more about TurningPoint response systems? Contact Mike Venrose at mvenrose@turningtechnologies.com

For each I’ve uploaded a PowerPoint handout and audio podcast of the presentation.

Rigor, Relevance and Reading for Struggling to Average Readers
RealPlayer Video rmvb 50 minutes    PPT Handout 1.4MB pdf    Audio 14MB wma 65 minutes
Boost student achievement with rigor, relevance and literacy strategies for academic success. Designed for high school teachers of all disciplines, the session demonstrated that teachers don't have to sacrifice content or become a reading teacher. Teachers found out how to support their subject area while building student literacy skills in defining and summarizing. For a more – Content Reading Strategies that Work 

Rigor, Relevance and Reading for High Performing Students
PPT Handout 1.6MB pdf    Audio 18MB wma 65 minutes
Designed for honors / AP level teachers who think that an engaging learning environment is more than an inspired lecture. Learn strategies to enable your students to read, reflect, and write like historians, scientists, mathematicians, and literary critics. Teachers found out how to support subject area mastery while building student literacy skills in defining, summarizing and analysis. We used an audience response system by TurningPoint. For a more – Content Reading Strategies that Work 

9th Grade Academy – A Small Learning Community that Works
RealPlayer Video  rmvb 55 minutes    Audio 11MB wma 65 minutes
Boost student achievement with rigor, relevance and literacy strategies for academic success. This workshop traced the success of the ninth grade academy at East Irondequoit CSD, an inner-ring suburb of Rochester NY. High standards, parent partnerships and assessment driven instruction are helping teachers of all disciplines support their subject area while building student literacy skills. We used an audience response system by TurningPoint. For more- Small Learning Communities that Work

Publishing – Academic Success for Struggling Readers and Writers
RealPlayer Video  rmvb 55 minutes    PPT Handout 1.6MB pdf    Audio 14MB wma 65 minutes
This workshop showcased examples of successful programs that have motivated struggling readers and writers.  The power of publishing enables students to think like writers, to apply their learning strategies and to organize and express their learning. Participants will also learned simple technology tips that produce great results. For a more – Read / Think / Write / Publish

Model Schools Conference Updates

The June ’06 Model School Conference in Orlando was a great success. The conference was hosted by Willard Daggett’s International Center for Leadership in Education. As a Senior Consultant for the ICLE, I presented four workshops. I’ve included workshop descriptions and updated handouts below.

I pleased to come home to this email from one of the participants:

Hi Mr. Pappas,
I saw you this week at the model schools conference and attended two of your sessions, the one on Publishing and Strategies for Rigor, Relevance and Reading for High Performing Students. I was completely moved, motivated and excited. …I cannot wait for school to begin again so I can put your ideas and strategies into practice!  I wanted to thank you for reenergizing me and giving me solid strategies that I can take back to the classroom!!! Many thanks,
LaDonna Walker ~ 7th grade language arts teacher

Reinventing High School – A Focus on Instruction. I used a Turning Point audience response system to gather data from over 500 attendees in the session. Here’s an updated version of the PowerPoint which includes the responder data Download pre-con-slides.pdf 1.4MB pdf  Want to know more about TurningPoint response systems? Contact Mike Venrose at mvenrose@turningtechnologies.com Tell him you saw the system in my session at Model Schools. More on my use of TurningPoint.

The Power of Publishing – Academic Success for Struggling Readers and Writers
“This workshop will showcase examples of successful programs that have motivated struggling readers and writers.  The power of publishing enables students to think like writers, to apply their learning strategies and to organize and express their learning. Tips for funding to incorporate the publishing workshop into your academic intervention program make this a viable and cost-effective solution for any district. Participants will also learn simple technology tips that produce great results.” Download Publishing-success-handout.pdf 1.8MB pdf. More online at my website Read > Think > Write > Publish

Rigor, Relevance and Reading for High Performing Students
“Designed for honors / AP level teachers who think that an engaging learning environment is more than an inspired lecture. Learn strategies to enable your students to read, reflect, and write like historians, scientists, mathematicians, and literary critics. Teachers will find out how to support subject area mastery while building student literacy skills in defining, summarizing and analysis.” Download high-performing-handout.pdf  1.5MB pdf. More online at my website Content Reading Strategies that Work

9th Grade Academy – A Small Learning Community That Works
“Boost student achievement with rigor, relevance and literacy strategies for academic success. This workshop traces the success of the ninth grade academy at East Irondequoit CSD, an inner-ring suburb of Rochester NY. High standards, parent partnerships and assessment driven instruction are helping teachers of all disciplines support their subject area while building student literacy skills.”
Download NGA-that-works.pdf 1.5MB pdf. More online at my website Small Learning Communities that Work

Ninth Grade Academy Planning Workshop – from “Idea to Implementation.”

There is a growing recognition that ninth graders flourish in the unique environment of a Ninth Grade Academy. These small learning communities improve freshman transitions with a supportive environment, dedicated faculty, counselor and administrator. (Note: See my more recent NGA blog post updates 2007 and 2010. )

Recently, I offered a one-day planning workshop for a consortium of high schools in eastern and central Kentucky. The session was sponsored by the Pike County Schools and the Kentucky Department of Education. The goal of our workshop was to guide NGA design teams from “Idea to Implementation.”

I was joined by Matt Laniak, principal of Eastridge High School at East Irondequoit CSD. Matt and I had collaborated in the design and launch of the NGA – Matt was the it’s founding director and I was then serving as the district’s Assistant Superintendent for Instruction.

Our workshop perspective was "from the frontline,” with activities, resources and discussion to help participants address planning elements – Making use of data, Selection of faculty, Fostering faculty teamwork, Working with feeder schools, Professional development, Curriculum development, Scheduling, Physical plant, Student conduct, Support structures, Partnering with parents, Working with stakeholders.

Participant evaluations suggest it was a highly successful session –
“The workshop had a tremendous impact on our planning, it gave us a blueprint to go by – thank you so much.”
“Engaging, interactive, informative, and very motivational.”
“Real life case studies from presenters who have walked the walk."
“I am so excited to implement the NGA at our school after this workshop. – thank you.”
“Well-organized, the presenters have actually faced the problems we have. So many ideas to make our planning easier.”

Workshop resources include:
Participant Planning Guide 39KB PDF
Q and A – launch a NGA 53KB PDF
PowerPoint Handout 1.1MB PDF

For more resources visit my Small Learning Communities Website and see video interviews with the Ninth Grade Academy students and teachers.

Here's a 55 minute RealPlayer video of a conference presentation I did for the Oregon Dept of Eductation called "9th Grade Academy – A Small Learning Community that Works."  If you need RealPlayer click here.

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