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Midvale Journal

Husky Strong Academy students learn about high school before school begins

Sep 05, 2019 03:06PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Dawson Schmith said he was attending Hillcrest High School’s summer school for the money. 

“I was doing it to get enough money for a dirt bike, but the credits are good, too,” he said. “Plus, I got a head start on some high school subjects and a review of others.”

Dawson learned about the Husky Strong Academy in spring of his eight-grade year at Union. Through a partnership with United Way of Salt Lake, students, like Dawson, who complete their assignments and attend daily during the six weeks of class in June and July can be rewarded $200 and with a $5 bonus for daily attendance, he received $310. 

“It was pretty easy and I had nothing else to do this summer. The best thing was I made new friends and I know my way around the building,” he said.

Even if students miss a day, but still complete assignments, or are in attendance daily, they qualify for $100 VISA card, said Hillcrest Assistant Principal Sara Little.

The program is set up for incoming ninth-graders to help them succeed as they start high school, said Little, who has overseen the program since its initiation four years ago.

“We have 45 who consistently attend this year,” Little said. “We’re able to get to know the students and help them bridge to high school. We expect them to come daily, complete the program, and demonstrate their knowledge in each subject.”

Many of the students are in the target audience of students who may be struggling in a subject or two and this allows them to get a “jump start for high school,” she said, adding that the program is open to any incoming freshman.

Many of the teachers review skills that will be needed in high school class as well as review what they learned as eighth-graders and preview what they’ll study this fall.

For example, in English they may learn how to structure an essay before writing one; or in math, how to graph and learning sequencing. In biology, students recently completed a lab on solubility and in geography, they learned about maps and actually put their knowledge to a test by going on a scavenger hunt which allowed them to use the skills learned as well as get to know the school building and where to go for help.

“We want to help the students get on board academically and build relationships with teachers and peers. It may just be one teacher who they meet so when school starts and they need help, they can go to that teacher because they know someone cares,” she said.

Little said that teachers not only instruct in subject area, but they also help students navigate how to be successful such as how to organize their notebook binders, understand graduation requirements or how to approach a teacher about homework and tests. As a result, they receive 0.25 elective credit.

“It does more than give them credit, it gives them the boost and confidence that ‘I can do this,’” she said. “It’s not meant to replicate high school, but to give them a taste of it, introduce them to teachers and the building, and let them know they have to work in high school. They can’t just expect to show up and graduate.”

As a result, these students are showing more progress.

“Many of these students who participated in the program are more likely to make up credits and 2 percent are more likely to graduate than their peers at the same level who didn’t attend,” Little said.

While three of the five teachers instruct at Hillcrest, the others come from middle schools, including Midvale Middle, one of the feeder schools. This helps with bridging students from middle to high school, Little said.

The program also takes in consideration that some of these students may need assistance so there are bus pick-ups and drop-offs at three nearby elementary schools and breakfast and lunch provided. They also participate in a field trip to the Clark Planetarium, which ties into the study of the universe.

Biology teacher Karlie Aardema said through the program, she has seen students adjust and become more comfortable with high school.

“I include more engaging activities and pre-teach ninth-grade core science,” she said. “It’s more relaxed, we have more fun. There are more labs and with the monetary and credit incentive, students are motivated to be here and learn.”

Geology teacher Emily Nance said she believes in what the program does for each student.

“It provides opportunities for all these kids, and we are proactively investing in these students,” she said. “It’s evolved in four years, but we’ve learned how to help them advocate for themselves, how to help them succeed in high school and build those relationships with peers and adults. How they’re becoming successful inspires me; it’s amazing.”

For Little, there’s a personal connection. While in high school, her brother dropped out.

“He felt disconnected, disenfranchised and fell into the wrong crowd. He didn’t have a teacher or any support there,” she said. “After he earned his GED when he was 26, he said he wished he had someone at school to help him. That’s why it’s so important that we help these and every one of our students so they can be successful.”

However, Little will be an assistant principal at Corner Canyon High this fall, so she is turning over the program to International Baccalaureate Director John Olsen, along with the stats she has compiled showing the success of the program.

“We have 75 percent of those who attended the first year, in 2016, on track to graduate this year,” she said of the then 100 students who were invited from Midvale Middle and 30 from Union Middle.

That year, 87 students came the first day and about 67 regularly attended. Forty-seven completed the program, she said.

“Some didn’t like it, didn’t want to do homework, had to stay home to take care of siblings; there were a lot of reasons. Since then, we have narrowed our focus and have had fewer numbers and are able to give more attention to students and build those relationships,” she said.

Last year, she had 78 apply for the program — 41 from Midvale Middle and 37 from Union Middle. Fifty-four of the 57 students who decided to participate, completed the program and attended its celebration with school and district administrators at its end.

While Little acknowledges this year’s 45 students who participated is a far cry from the projected 500 incoming freshmen, it is an “impact for those who come.”

“It’s huge for those who are starting their high school career. It helps them make it to their senior year. For many, they may be the first in their family to graduate,” she said. “That’s why I’m an educator. I want to teach kids. I want to see them connect with school, their teachers, their peers and take pride in their school and academics.”