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Estacada High School leaders have implemented new programs to bolster student learning

FILE PHOTO - At Estacada High School,  63 percent of freshmen were on track to graduate during the 2016-17 school year.

According to numbers recently released by the Oregon Department of Education, 63 percent of Estacada High School freshmen are on track to graduate.

But Principal Bill Blevins described this as "a number you need to improve on."

"The freshmen on track to graduate is one of the more important numbers to look at," he said. "There's probably no more important year than the freshmen year. There are so many studies on the importance of starting that first year on track."

The freshmen on target to graduate number represents the percentage of first year high school students during the 2016-17 school year that earned at least 6 credits, or 25 percent of the total amount of credits the school requires for graduation. Across the state, 83 percent of high school freshmen were on track to graduate. In districts similar to Estacada, 78 percent of freshmen met the mark.

To help new students stay on track academically, Estacada High School leaders have launched two new programs this year. One is a required course called technology and careers, which focuses on easing the transition to high school.

"(It teaches) kids how to be organized, check their grades every week, communicate with their teachers and understand the technology used in the school," Blevins said. "From Google Docs to word processing, (from) sharing and emailing documents to Canvas, our learning management system. If they understand all of these things. . . there isn't a roadblock, at least tech-wise, that should prevent them from passing their classes."

The class also includes exploration of post-high school career options.

"(We encourage them) to try to look forward and past their post-high school career so they can start preparing for that," Blevins said.

In addition to the technology and careers course for freshman, the school's new Action Creates Excellence (ACE) program encourages students of all grade levels to receive extra help in subjects where they are struggling. The program consists of two different periods on Wednesdays in which students can work with teachers one-on-one or in small groups.

During one of the ACE periods, approximately 80 percent of students are meeting with teachers, and in another, approximately 67 percent are doing so.

Blevins believes one of the most valuable aspects of the ACE program is its accessibility.

"They don't have to get here before or after school. It's built in during the day when they're already here," he said. "Not everyone has access to a ride after school or getting here early."

Blevins noted that if a student does fail a course, he believes it would be valuable for the makeup process to focus

on specific areas of struggle rather than the entire curriculum.

"What are those things that you just didn't get? What are those essential skills that you didn't come out with? Because hopefully it's not the whole class," he said. "And if it isn't, we shouldn't repeat the whole class. We should just get them on those things they didn't get."

In the 2015-16 school year, 77 percent of Estacada High School freshmen were on track to graduate; compared to the 2016-17 school year's percentage of 63, this represents a drop of more than 10 percent.

"The significance (of that drop) is we're not doing enough," Blevins said. "We need to do better. But I think some things have been put into place that will give (students) an opportunity to do better."

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