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School district improves programs to ensure graduation, expands options to keep students engaged in class

POST PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Sandy Grade School offers a class for kindergarteners who need a little more help acclimating to school. With a new school year comes new obstacles as well as new opportunities. This year, the Oregon Trail School District has some new ideas of how be proactive about getting all of its students to graduation day, and account for every student on track to graduate within the district.

For children as young as 3 and 4, the district elementary schools offer "Little Steps to School Success," a program focused on preparing preschool-aged kids for class. The soon-to-be students get to spend an evening in their future school, hearing stories and participating in activities with their future teacher, and get a book to take home free of charge.

"Without some of (our) early learning programs, there can be a pretty wide discrepancy (between students' skill levels)," said Teaching and Learning Director Tim Werner.

"Little Steps helps prepare incoming students for kindergarten by creating familiarity with the school and teachers, and by giving parents strategies to use at home to help prepare their children academically and socially," added Julia Monteith, district communications director.

POST PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Chromebooks have become a staple in the Oregon Trail School District curricula at all schools and grade levels. Middle schools have implemented after-school tutoring as well as targeted intervention programs for students behind in math and reading.

Werner, who only recently moved into his district administrative position from his previous role as the principal at Boring Middle School, also sees maintaining middle school athletic programs as beneficial to student success.

In a previous interview, Werner explained that "the more you can connect the kids to their school, the more they want to do well and want to come to school."

Monteith added that "the correlation between physical activity and academic success" played a significant role in the district's decision to keep the programs going when other districts were eliminating them to cut costs.

Athletics, Werner said, really do connect students to their school and community and foster school spirit.

At the high school level, athletics may play a slightly different role, but the administration hopes an expanded career and technical education (CTE) program will prove not only knowledgable for students nearing adulthood, but as incentive to give a concerted effort and pull through to graduation.

"CTE programs provide students with the skills needed for high-skill, high-wage careers," Monteith noted. "District data shows that students who participate in a CTE program are more likely to graduate."

POST PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Aleta Doss' freshman advisory class learns and debates the importance of a first impression and practices firm handshakes with good eye contact.Also new to Sandy High School this year are freshman seminar and advisory courses.

The first was established to proactively aid those eighth-graders who struggled in middle school in preparing for the more rigorous responsibilities of high school. Students were invited in August to attend classes focused on acquainting them with the new setting.

"It gives them a good foundation," Werner explained. "The high school really focuses on that freshman year to (ensure) success."

As for advisory courses, every grade now attends them, and will attend with the same class of people and teacher throughout their high school career.

"It gives them a chance to connect with each other and the school," said freshman advisory teacher Aleta Doss. "The advisers act as advocates and someone who knows them. If we connect with kids, they're more likely to make it through all four years."

According to Oregon Department of Education's report card for the district for the 2015-16 academic year, Oregon Trail had a graduation rate of 67.1 percent in the 2014-15 school year — a whole 6.7 percent difference from the state average — while its percentage of freshman on-track to graduate was 81.6 percent.

Monteith argued that the graduation rate for the district is actually higher than what the ODE reports.

She explained that there are several students who move or leave the district and are not properly coded and accounted for before the state polls rates, which makes it appear that a lesser percentage of the senior student body is graduating.

"Sandy High School is really trying to hone in on what the actual representation of graduates is," Monteith added, and those numbers will be published by The Post once the school determines them.

"The whole purpose of the education system is getting them to that diploma," Werner said.

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