Eight years ago, Granger High in Washington’s Yakima Valley was a typical high-poverty, low-performing school, writes Karin Chenoweth of Education Trust in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Only 20 percent of students met reading standards; only half graduated. Gangs were active; graffiti marred the campus. Nobody expected more from the children of farmworkers: 80 percent are Latino, 10 percent American Indian and 90 percent are poor. But a new principal, Richard Esparza, believed Granger’s students could do better.
More than 90 percent of the Class of 2008 — almost all of whom are low-income — graduated from high school on time. Another couple of students will be graduating this summer.
That’s not all — a whopping 90 percent of the 62 graduates are going on to some kind of post-secondary education. Thirty-seven percent are going directly to four-year colleges, 14 percent to technical schools and more than a third to two-year colleges.
Most Granger students start ninth grade with poor reading, writing, math and science skills, Chenoweth writes.
To tackle the students’ low reading skills, Granger uses a locally grown program that begins by providing students with very short passages posing an ethical dilemma, allowing students to grapple with serious topics while learning new vocabulary and gaining fluency. Eventually students graduate to longer passages and, after a while, serious literature that allows them to enter the life of the mind — “Huckleberry Finn,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Even students who enter reading at fifth-grade level or below are meeting state reading standards by 10th grade.
Unlike at most schools, failure is not a final outcome. Students who fail quizzes and tests are given the opportunity to retake them after tutoring, allowing them to develop an academic work ethic.
That reminds me of Downtown College Prep, which I wrote about in Our School: Start where students are, even if it means teaching elementary skills in ninth grade. Treat failure as useful feedback: You need to work harder, go at it a different way, try, try again.
Chenoweth is the author of It’s Being Done: Academic Success in Unexpected Schools.