Summer program builds foundational skills for struggling freshmen and sophomores
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Sophomore Cynthia Brenhaug said the extra attention in a McMinnville summer program that allows freshmen and sophomores to raise their math and science grades to a C helped her learn the material. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Sophomore Cynthia Brenhaug is building her foundational math knowledge one learning target at a time in a McMinnville summer program.
A teacher scored her latest effort, while giving her a bit of test-taking advice. Brenhaug was beaming as she left the classroom in McMinnville School District’s Adams Campus.
“I got eight out of nine and I’m actually proud of myself,” she told a fellow student entering the room. Brenhaug said she was feeling especially good about passing the test on her first try.
McMinnville encourages struggling freshmen and sophomores to retake portions of math and science courses during the first four weeks of summer break so they can master the skills required by later classes.
Teachers have broken up the curriculum for algebra I, geometry, biology and physical science into learning targets. Students who receive a D or F during the regular academic year can study and retest on areas where they were not proficient. If they get a C or better on all learning targets during summer, their class grade is changed to a C.
McMinnville has a typical credit recovery program where students can retake courses to gain credits, but this summer program is separate. Unlike traditional summer school, students don’t have to retake the whole course and they can keep the bad grade off transcripts.
Brenhaug said a strong transcript is important for her college goals. The summer program helped her build toward becoming an engineer.
“I can understand the things I haven’t before,” she said.
Grants paid for teachers to redesign courses and establish the summer program in 2015. The first year had two dozen students for just algebra I. This summer, 144 students out of a population of a little more than 1,000 students earned 250 grade changes.
McMinnville math teacher Pamela Canady, the program coordinator, said the learning targets structure helps students and parents understand how a student is doing throughout the year. Teachers can create interventions targeted to students’ needs.
Canady said the summer program builds confidence and creates momentum for the next school year. Students finish on a high note rather than spending the summer with a failed class weighing on them.
The classrooms are open from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. for four weeks after school ends. The program started this summer with six math teachers, two science teachers and an assistant. As students finish their targets and leave, the number of classrooms and teachers shrinks.
Students can focus on one target at a time in depth and receive personalized help.
Freshman Nia Soto said she didn’t understand biology but now it is making sense.
“I’m more prepared and now I’m not going to slack off,” she said.
McMinnville High School principal Tony Vicknair enthusiastically supports the teacher-created, teacher-driven program. He said it has increased algebra I passing rates; he would like to expand it to other core areas and higher classes.
Vicknair said the learning targets make it easier to establish what students know and don’t know, no matter what their grade might be on a chapter test. He said students’ abilities on learning targets help teachers plan instruction.
A failing grade can be life-changing, Vicknair said, and it was important for schools to help clear roadblocks for students. He stressed, however, that students had to earn the grades by proving proficiency.
Sophomore Kelsie Autry had more than 20 math learning targets to master, but by the third week she was down to three.
Autry wants to attend college and find a good job. She said the summer program structure makes it easier to study.
“It definitely shows me I’m capable of doing it,” she said. “When I look back on it, I’m like ‘Wow! I actually did this and I understand it.’”