- Associated Press - Thursday, September 24, 2015

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) - Ninth-grader Gabrielle Atkinson doesn’t like to look at her grades because it stresses her out. But when the Jefferson High School student checked on a recent Thursday, they weren’t bad: six A’s, one B and an F.

“I want to have straight A’s by the end of the semester,” said Gabrielle, who said her grades are improving. “It’s kind of going as planned so I’m kind of proud.”

Gabrielle is one of 21 students in Jefferson’s pilot guided study hall program, which is designed to help freshmen build the skills to succeed in high school and avoid the credit shortages that prompt students to drop out. The teens were chosen because they had poor grades, high standardized test scores and good behavior while they were at Tecumseh Junior High School. In other words: They have the potential to succeed or to fall through the cracks at Jefferson.

Instead of attending a traditional study hall, where they would be left to do school work without much teacher involvement, the students are in guided study hall, with teachers who closely follow their progress in other classes and help them improve grades. Students are supposed to build skills, such as tracking homework, meeting deadlines and communicating with teachers, according to Principal Mark Preston. They also earn a credit for completing the course.

“Our hope is that we’re building the skills for them in that freshman year … that are going to carry over to that sophomore, junior, senior year,” Preston said. “These are life-long skills that they are going to need to be successful in a job, having a family, having children, all of those sorts of things.”

For many teens, it’s challenging to transition from middle school, where they progress to the next grade even if they fail a course, to high school, where students must pass classes to earn credits, take higher level classes and graduate, according to instructor Kristin Pearl.

“It’s kind of a hard shift sometimes. And our ninth-graders sometimes don’t realize what kind of hole they’re digging for themselves until they get to that 10th grade setting and they realize, ‘Oh, I’m still in English 9. All my friends are in English 10,’ ” Pearl said. “Then that creates a stigma. It creates a negative perception of themselves. It creates a negative perception of school and education in general. So we want to get them to those credits their freshman year.”

There are currently two guided study hall classes. If the program is successful, it might expand to serve more students, Preston said.

It’s too early to say whether guided study hall will have a long-term impact for students. But Gabrielle, who’s hoping to complete her required courses early in high school so she will have time to focus on art, thinks that it’s helping her improve her grades.

“I have goals for myself now that I’ve started this class,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to make goals for yourself when you know how to keep everything in order and you’re more organized.”

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Source: (Lafayette) Journal & Courier, https://on.jconline.com/1Vb9Dpm

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Information from: Journal and Courier, https://www.jconline.com

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