When One Teacher CARES
By Tori La Rue | email@example.com
West Jordan - Graduation rates at Copper Hills High School had the highest increase within the Jordan School District in the 2014-15 academic school year, and school officials are saying it is largely because of an educational support program headed up by one teacher.
Copper Hill’s graduation rate went from 85.8 percent in the 2013-14 school year to 91.6 in the 2014-15 school year, a difference of nearly 6 percent, according to statistics released by the state in December 2015.
The district’s graduation rate as a whole was 85 percent, with Herriman and Riverton High Schools increasing slightly and West Jordan and Bingham High Schools continuing at the same rate, according to the report.
Glen Varga, assistant principal at Copper Hills, attributes “basically all” of Copper Hills’ success to Kris Strong for her Copper Hills At-Risk Education Support program, more commonly known as CARES, which allows credit-deficient students to make up credits, he said.
The CARES program began in 2007 and Strong spent most of her time updating files when students finished curriculum packets that made up for their failed credits.
Occasionally, Strong would instruct CARE students on math when they needed it, but many students took the weight on themselves and didn’t ask for help.
For the 2014-15 school year, the administration at Copper Hills decided to create a class for CARES to allow students school time and instructional help to make up their failed credits. Strong accepted the position as the CARES teacher, working half-days.
Strong grew up as a good student with a supportive family, and for a long time she couldn’t understand why people didn’t pass school. It wasn’t until her adult years that she wanted to help others graduate.
“The truth is, it doesn’t matter why they failed,” Strong said. “What matters is that now they want to succeed, so my job is to help them strike when their motivation is high.”
Strong usually begins class with a few minutes of instruction on something that is a good review for everyone in the class. Then the students beginning working on the curriculum they need to make up. The curriculum includes a wide range of subjects, including math, science, English, history, and health.
“It’s the world’s greatest job, but sometimes I feel like I’m in a pinball machine, bouncing around from subject to subject like that,” she said. “I was a math teacher originally, so I prepare and study the other subjects all I can to have the opportunity of individualizing their education.”
Joseph Pepper, 16 and a junior, wasn’t motivated to graduate last year, he said. He failed geography and language arts because the content was hard, and he didn’t know how to get help.
This year Pepper signed up for CARES and he said it’s given him a new hope.
“No one else in my family — parents, grandparents or siblings — has graduated or gone to college,” he said. “I am planning to graduate and be the first one in my family. Then I want to go to the U of U.”
More than 75 percent of the 64 seniors in Strong’s classes graduated last year, Strong said. She anticipates that even more will graduate this year. This year, Strong is making a concentrated focus on monitoring the grades her students get in their other classes to ensure that they don’t continue to fail classes.
Because the program worked so well, they’ve expanded it for the 2015-16 school year. Strong now has her own assistant who tracks student progress, and instead of working half days, Strong has a full schedule of CARES classes, Varga said.
Half of the 286 students who are completing packets are also enrolled in a CARES class where they can receive specialized attention.
“You can’t help someone succeed if they don’t want to,” she said. “But some of these seniors, they catch the vision that they can graduate, and it’s like a whole new motivation for them. That’s the beauty of it.”
The school counselors helped enrollment by recommending that students with more than a couple F’s take the course. That’s why Brandon Martin, 17, signed up for CARES.
Martin, a member of the band, said he had many after-school practices, which made it hard to do homework. On top of that, he got two jobs in order to make his car and saxophone payments.
“I failed a couple classes last year and didn’t really realize how that would affect me, but things are coming together,” he said. “I definitely think I can graduate on time with the programs, teachers and counselors they have here. They want me to succeed.”