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The Power of Partnership, Innovation and Learning

School Desk Blog: Right Student, Right Class

This is the time of year we begin reaching out to next year’s freshman class, the class that will graduate in 2021. Ukiah High School counselors and administrators are busy visiting local middle schools, reviewing transcripts, and conducting surveys in which students share their interests and goals. My theme for this process is Right Student, Right Class.

To begin, we send a survey to all students who will enroll at the high school next year—those currently in eighth grade through eleventh grade—but we focus specifically on the incoming freshmen. Starting students off on the right foot in high school can make a life-long impact.

While all freshmen will study the subjects required for graduation, each student has the opportunity to explore new ideas through elective classes. Each of our counselors works with more than 300 students. While this is one of the best ratios of counselors to students in the state, their workload is daunting.

We needed a tool to give us enough information to make meaningful connections with students in a short period of time. This is where our survey comes in. It asks students about what they want to do with their lives, among other things, in hopes of helping them think broadly about the many possibilities available to them.

When we review a student’s academic transcript and compare it with their survey responses, it doesn’t take us long to ask focused questions that reveal a student’s passion and potential, and direct them to electives they may not have considered.

High school is the time when students formally take responsibility for themselves. Choosing the right electives can be a first step: identifying their interests so they can pursue the future that excites them. It also helps teachers, because when students choose the right electives, they are engaged rather than simply going through the motions. It’s more fun to teach students eager to learn.

Without this Right Student, Right Class approach, students may choose electives for the wrong reasons. In years past, it wasn’t unusual for popular eighth graders to voice their preferences and sway a whole class. The other students would think, “If the most popular kid in class thinks that elective it cool, it must be cool. I’ll sign up for that elective, too.” Or, well-intentioned parents may recommend electives they took when they were in high school.

Now, we can do so much better. For example, a student with excellent middle school grades says she’d like to attend Stanford University. Her career interest? Fashion. This is the type of student who could be steered toward electives that “look good to colleges.” That is not a bad idea, but with her interest in fashion, she could be encouraged to take sewing as a freshman. We have an excellent sewing teacher, and if this student is as bright and motivated as she appears, learning to sew early will allow her to explore her interest in fashion early and create amazing projects that get Stanford’s attention.

Another student, one who hasn’t had a lot of academic success, is also interested in fashion. She could be steered toward sewing, too; not because it might help her get into college, but because it may become the reason she finishes high school. When students are connected with a subject or a teacher they really like, it can make the difference between dropping out and graduating.

Beyond counselors meeting with students, I’ve asked some UHS teachers to reach out to incoming freshmen. These teachers really know their subjects, and if families hear directly from a teacher who would like to enroll their student in his or her class, it can have an enormous influence.

This is the time to encourage kids to explore, take a flyer, pursue a passion. If your child is interested in law school, recommend drama. If your child is interested in engineering or building things, recommend wood shop, metal shop, or ceramics. If your child likes music, consider band or contemporary music ensemble (rock band).

Let’s eliminate the random nature of whether students take classes they like; let’s ignite their curiosity and pave the way for a bright future. The time is now.