Bremerton High graduate numbers on the rise — Parent involvement key

Not one specific program or change can be pinpointed as helping more students to graduate high school in Bremerton. But numbers show an increase in graduation rate and there are many factors that have contributed to it.

In the 2002-2003 school year, Bremerton High School had 57.3 percent of students graduate on time and since then the number has increased with the 2009-2010 school year, the most recent information available, seeing 87.5 percent graduate on time. It has now surpassed state numbers with the state on-time graduates at 76.5 percent, according to data from the state Office of Public Instruction.

Various programs and strategies have allowed the Bremerton School District to increase graduation rates over the last few years while simultaneously decreasing drop-out rates, said Patty Glaser, district spokeswoman.

Chris Swanson, college and career counselor at Bremerton High, who has been with the school for 11 years said the development of some programs such as earning course credit from an Internet-based curriculum allows students who may not do well in a traditional classroom succeed. Throughout his time at the school, the counseling staff has also become data driven to track students’ progress.

It’s the cumulation of the various programs that have helped with the trend of more graduates, both at Bremerton and throughout the state.

State graduation numbers have been inching upward since 2007 and Nathan Olson, spokesman of the state Office of Public Instruction, said that many districts are doing various things from “early detection” of at-risk drop out students to one-on-one tutoring. The state does not have quantifiable data on what exactly causes the trend, he added.

Swanson said that in 2004, Bremerton also began student-led conferences, which have helped encourage more parents in participating. In fall 2003, an estimated 23 percent of parents or guardians attended the conferences, which primarily included notifications of their children’s grades. With the student-led conferences, students also share their academic goals in each of their classes. In fall 2010, 81.2 percent of parents of guardians participated in the conferences.

“When the students are the ones presenting, the parents are even more engaged in the process,” said Swanson. “They want to come out and support their students.”

Michael Lawrence has two children who graduated from the high school in 2007 and one son who is currently a junior and said the school is improving and is good about meeting with the community.

“They are open are trying to fill in the gaps,” Lawrence said last week. “Whenever my wife or I email the teachers, they always email back. They communicate well with us.”

For his children, Lawrence said that mentoring and being involved with sports have helped his children keep on the “right path.”

Christopher Lawrence, Michael Lawrence’s son who graduated four years ago, said that he recalled classmates who did not graduate with him and he believed it was a lack of support — usually from their parents.

“Some students feel that nobody cares, they need somebody to care,” Christopher Lawrence said. He is currently a certified nursing assistant at Bremerton Health and Rehabilitation and is planning on going into the nursing program at Olympic College. His twin sister Christina is a youth community leader involved in mentoring and plans to go back to OC, said Michael Lawrence.

In Christopher and Christina Lawrence’s class of 2007, 68.2 percent of students graduated on time and 73.6 percent were extended graduates. From that class 51 percent attended OC, 15 percent attended a four-year college, 3 percent joined the military and 9 percent began working, according to statistics from the high school. Swanson added that the numbers were developed based on senior exit surveys students completed in May and June and may not portray what graduates actually end up doing. In 2010, 24 percent of students reported plans to attend a four-year college.

“The actual college enrollment figures are lower, the question is how much lower,” Swanson said.

Graduating high school is one step and attending a college or university is another.

Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs is a federal and state initiative to help schools with low-income populations prepare for college readiness. The school received a three-year state grant from GEAR UP that supported the class of 2011, said Swanson. Some of the services provided through the grant included taking the class to college visits around the Puget Sound area, providing national-level guest speakers, covering Advanced Placement testing fees for students who couldn’t afford it and training for teachers to teach AP courses.

“Overall this program was doing both — to graduate and pursue post-secondary education,” Swanson said.

Swanson said that a new cohort will begin with the current 7th graders in the district provided by a $157,000 GEAR UP grant. Each year, additional money will be received to serve the class until they graduate.

Although students from the class of 2011 are done with high school, they can still receive guidance from the school. Through the grant, the recent graduates can continue to receive support though the end of the month.

“GEAR UP is about building relationships with the students. We had several students come contact us the first week of school before we contacted them,” said Deann Irish, career and technical education clerical assistant.

The graduates have been able to meet with counselors by either dropping in or arranging an appointment to receive assistance ranging from how to fill out financial aid forms to looking into new programs. Facebook has helped graduates stay connected with counselors and Swanson said that if a graduate comes to them next month, they won’t turn them away but that this is the “last push.” The school also checks in with the graduates to see where they are at in order to produce statistics to the state to follow up with the grant.

Both Irish and Swanson said that being able to provide support for the students post-graduation is important especially since many are first generation college students or maybe even high school graduates and their parents are not familiar with how to navigate things such as financial aid options.

But before students get to the point of appearing like they may not get to graduation — such as failing a class — help is provided right away.

Any student in grades 9 or 10 that fail a class are immediately enrolled in a “credit retrieval” option to regain that lost credit, Glaser said.

Programs including the Odyssey Program and Drawbridge Program are an opportunities for students to not continue to fall behind. Odyssey offers a full curriculum set to state standards where students earn credit through online work. Drawbridge is an individually designed contract-based program that is reading intensive and project-based where students focus on one class at a time.

“Regaining that credit quickly is a key factor in keeping students actively engaged,” Glaser said.

Even with individualized support from the school, some say that parents always need to be involved for the students to do well in school.

“Sometimes the parents are clueless and don’t know what their kids are doing,” said Christopher Lawrence. “They need to reach out more toward the parents.”

By the numbers

Drop-out  On-time grad Extended grad

2006-2007    5.7 / 5.5    68.2 / 72.4    73.6 / 77.4

2007-2008    5.9 / 5.6    73.2 / 72     77.8 / 77

2008-2009    3.1 / 5.1    76.8 / 73.5    82.6 / 79.2

2009-2010    3.2 / 4.6    87.5 / 76.5    96.9 / 82.7

(Numbers denote percentages. Bold is Bremerton High School, other is state).

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