Students in At-Promise House pose for a selfie during a first-semester celebration. The academy at Central Union High School helps students from throughout the district who are deficient in credits get back on track for graduation.
Welcome to At-Promise House
This school-within-a-school in Central UHSD provides credit recovery to students without reclassifying them
August 8, 2022
The following article was written by Rauna Fox and Jessica Mathy.
In January 2021, the Central Union High School SARB noticed a pattern of students being referred to the School Attendance Review Board. These students were disengaged from school and not passing their remote learning classes. An investigation into this issue showed that more than 190 out of 1,250 freshmen had earned 15 or fewer credits during the first semester. This equated to over 16 percent of our freshmen — and this was only the first semester.
What were we going to do? How could we support these students when they returned to in-person instruction? How could we help them get “back on track” for graduation?
We began with research into programs for at-risk youth. Through our research we were connected with the Sacramento County Office of Education and Marc Nigel. Nigel shared with us the CARE Intervention Program offered as a community school program in Sacramento County. This program serves students in grades 7-12 and is a partnership between SCOE and local districts aimed at lowering the dropout rate and the number of students referred to juvenile probation. We also reached out to continuation programs and found that successful programs integrate social-emotional support, student goal planning and ongoing parent communication.
By combining the great work of these programs, we knew we had found a way to serve our students at Central Union High School District. So now the question of “What do we do?” became “How do we make this happen for our students?”
The first step was to decide what outcome we wanted. That was the easy part. We knew we wanted to move our students from at risk of not meeting graduation requirements to being “at-promise” of graduating on time, in four years. So, with this the name of our program was born: At-Promise House.
Recruiting students was the next step. Who would we recruit? What grades will we serve? It was decided that we would serve incoming freshmen who had not met promotion criteria at their middle school/junior high, and current freshmen who had earned 15 or fewer credits by school’s end.
During the spring of 2020-21, we met with parents of students via Google Meet, sent out fliers and posted on social media. We shared with them the components of At-Promise House and why it would be best for their students. This voluntary, one-year program is open to all students in the district to help them get back on track for graduation in four years while remaining on a comprehensive high school campus. Using a school-within-a-school model, At-Promise House would provide:
  • A safe place for students who are disengaged and/or at-promise due to credit deficiency and low GPA.
  • A designated administrator.
  • A designated counselor.
  • A small-group setting where students are assigned to one advisory teacher.
  • Designated time for social-emotional learning using a research-based program.
  • Weekly consultation and goal setting meetings with the advisory teacher for both students and parents.
  • Ongoing counseling services in and out of the classroom.
  • Opportunities for students to maintain contact with peers and participate in extracurricular activities by remaining on the comprehensive high school campus.
  • Extended learning times for credit recovery after/before school, on weekends and during intersession.
Parents and guardians had responsibility in our model. They were expected to communicate weekly with their child’s advisory teacher, ensure their child attends school 90 percent of the time, and monitor their child’s grades in the Aeries portal.
At the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, we were excited and nervous to see who would actually show up to attend the program. To our surprise, we had 63 students who began the journey with us in August 2021. Over the course of the year, we monitored student progress and made program changes to meet student needs.
We realized that students in At-Promise House were not used to being successful, so celebrating success was a big part of At-Promise House. We celebrated students who were “back-on-track” with their grades, attendance, behavior or meeting graduation requirements. We celebrated students who passed all their courses in the first semester, and those who completed more than the required amount of credits.
Organization was an issue for students in At-Promise House. They did not have skills for time management, organization, note-taking or completing assignments. In order to assist them with this, each student was provided a tabbed binder and a planner, and organizational skills were explicitly taught each week during advisory. For 2022-23, APH teachers and administration will be trained in AVID strategies in order to further support students.
When students began to share that they felt like they did not belong to the comprehensive high school, belonging and culture became a focus. In order to cultivate ownership of the program, a logo and T-shirt campaign was launched. Students were asked to design a logo that represented what APH meant to them. They were each given T-shirts to show off their APH pride. They were also connected with Link Crew, Yellow Ribbon Club and activities for Mental Health Awareness Month.
At the end of the 2021-22 year, if students were not passing a course with a C or better, which is a graduation requirement for CUHSD, APH offered them the opportunity to participate in Reteach, Retake, Replace, where students could redo assignments and exams to improve their grade.
Things were going well, and it looked like APH was a success. But how could we prove it? What data showed that the funding for this resource-intensive program was effective? At the end of the year, our data showed that 21 students earned 80 credits or more and 26 students earned 60 credits or more. That is 47 of our 56 students who made significant progress. Increasing from 0-15 credits to 60+ and 80+ credits in one school year — now that is something to be proud of!
More importantly, our APH students were connected to school, felt safe and felt supported. When asked the skills that they learned while in APH, students stated:
  • Not to make the same mistake again.
  • Skills in content areas.
  • Turning in work on time.
  • How to be a leader.
  • Meeting new people and learning how to work with others.
  • How to stay organized.
  • Have an easy chance to make up credits without having to be reclassified and getting to graduate in 2024.
Did we get every APH student “back on track” in one year? Unfortunately, we did not. We did, however, help students find their light through determination and hard work. We showed them that mistakes do not define them, and that teachers care for them and their success. We showed them that they were never at risk of failing, but were always at promise of getting back on track. We showed them a side of education that some had previously had not experienced: success.
Rauna Fox is the former Assistant Superintendent for the Central Union High School District and currently the Superintendent for the Brawley Elementary School District. Jessica Mathy is the Assistant Principal for Special Programs for the Central Union High School District.
The At-Promise House team, from left: Mr. Mavity, social studies teacher; Ms. Bravo, counselor; Mr. Tostado, English teacher; Ms. Mathy, assistant principal of special programs; Ms. Couch, science teacher; Mr. Olivas, math teacher.
A balloon balance activity.
A scavenger hunt activity.
APH Transition Celebration celebrating students transitioning back to their comprehensive campus.
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