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Central Kitsap's ACHIEVE programs helps struggling students 'turn a 180'

Last year Quentin Phillips wandered the halls of Ridgetop Junior High School with a 1.9 grade-point average.

And he didn’t care.

Now as his freshman year winds down, Phillips, 15, has exchanged his Cs and Ds for Bs and is hoping to finish the year with a 3.0.

“I know I can do this,” he said, adding that he’s still coming to terms with the progress he’s made. “I’m still kind of grasping it.”

Phillips said the transformation is due entirely to a program geared toward students like himself who have the means to succeed but need direction and motivation.

The program, called ACHIEVE, was modeled after the California-based program, Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID. It combines an emphasis on study skills and college preparation with a community learning technique that allows students to develop as a group as well as individually.

In 2001, a team of administrators and teachers from the Central Kitsap School District observed schools in California using the AVID program to determine whether it was something the district would be interested in implementing.

“AVID is an amazing program,” said Chris Wyatt, director of student services for the district. “The cost of training and getting it set up required more money than we had so we modeled our own program the best we could.”

The district started ACHIEVE the following year.

As Central Kitsap High School senior Richie Aflleje prepares to graduate, he’s already thinking about his move across the country to Pennsylvania State University, a school he never thought he’d attend.

He too credits ACHIEVE for pushing him to find the potential he didn’t know he had.

“Now, we know what kind of people we are,” he said about his ACHIEVE classmates, adding that before the program, he had little work ethic or motivation when it came to studying. “It definitely made me turn a 180 with my school work.”

It’s the same story at the other end of Bucklin Hill Road.

Olympic High School senior Ashley Bezotte said she struggled with math since junior high school and was at times in danger of failing.

Now, with less than month before graduation, she has a B in an advanced statistics class.

“I would have never thought of even taking that class,” she said, adding that her teacher, Mindy Eisele, pushed her to do something she didn’t feel comfortable with. “I still can’t believe I even did this.”

The program begins in ninth grade at both Central Kitsap and Ridgetop junior high schools.

But before they even set foot in the classroom, students must interview for a spot in the program. If they are invited back, students must then sign a contract requiring them to take advanced placement courses and other high-level classes, perform community service and get involved in organizations outside the classroom in order to complete the program.

“At first I was kind of skeptical,” said Ridgetop freshman Lorenzo Alvarenga. “I didn’t want to overload myself.”

His classmate Bethany Laude said she, too, didn’t know what to expect and didn’t see how taking harder classes would get her a better grade.

“I was really nervous,” she said. “I never really excelled at anything.”

Both Laude and Alvarenga said that for them, it was simply about motivation and a little extra push from their teacher, Loisanne Sykes.

“She doesn’t really budge. She’s a rock but also the reason I can go home everyday and relax,” Alvarenga said.

Sykes said being tough on the students while still finding ways to motivate them is part of why the program has seen so much success.

“They are really crying and whining in the beginning,” she said, adding that as the year progresses they end up accomplishing more than they thought possible. But, she added, it doesn’t come easy.

“They have to show they are willing to take this challenge,” Sykes said. “They have to work for it.”

And just as students are invited into the program, they can also be kicked out.

Sykes said it’s rare, but students who do not fulfill the requirements in the contract are “exited” out of the program.

In ninth grade, the ACHIEVE class mimics AVID closely, Wyatt said. It’s in high school that the program diverges. Instead of a designated class set aside through their senior year, students participate in ACHIEVE through either their biology or American literature classes one day a week.

Both Olympic and Central Kitsap high schools have the program.

As seniors, the students meet individually with the ACHIEVE instructor and meet as a group outside of class once a month.

Wyatt said she would like to see ACHIEVE students have their own class, like they do in ninth grade, but there is not enough staffing to accommodate it. Still, she said, she sees the benefits each year as students accept their diplomas.

“Most of the kids who go into ACHIEVE would not have gone on to college,” she said, adding that the district does not keep up-to-date statistics linking graduating ACHIEVE seniors where they go after high school.

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