By the time Carmena arrived at Crowley Ninth Grade Campus last fall, she had lived through some turbulent times. She had attended three different junior high schools—one of them twice. During her second year of eighth grade, however, her life had stabilized and her grades and demeanor had begun to improve.
At Crowley Ninth Grade Campus, Carmena became one of about 160 students who are part of Destination Graduation, a new United Way education strategy in Crowley that supports ninth graders and their families to ensure they stay on track for graduation. “Research shows this is the biggest transition year of their lives when you talk about their academic career,” said Crowley Ninth Grade Campus Principal Omarian Brown.
A key part of Destination Graduation is Graduation Coach Dr. Anthony Johnson, whom the principal calls “a support system as well as a safety net to get the kids what they need.”
“When I got here,” said Carmena, “I had somebody who cared enough to keep pushing me through. I’ve been going through changes at home, and when I came to school, I would be kind of down about it, and so Mr. Johnson was here to talk to me about it. He was there to comfort me so I could get my work done and figure out what papers I needed to do to bring up my grades. This is actually the first year I have gotten A/B honor role.”
Carmena has become an active member of several leadership and mentoring programsat Crowley Ninth Grade Campus. She said Destination Graduation has “helped with my self-esteem. Being in this program, I feel safe and supported.” Had she not had the support system it provides, “I would have constantly let things put me down and not done my work again. I would have continued that cycle of failing,” she said. “I am blessed to have Mr. Johnson.”
Dr. Johnson said Destination Graduation tries to address all issues “that make graduating a challenge,” ranging from discipline issues at school to “something that’s going on at home.” Help is customized to meet each student’s needs. Sometimes Dr. Johnson briefly touches base with a student (what he calls a “drive by”). Other times he provides more in-depth mentoring. Often he acts as a mediator between student and teacher.
Along with one-on-one mentoring and tutoring, the Ninth Grade Center offers small group tutoring and “Saturday School” to help students earn the credits they need and pass all of the required state tests.
Partnering with Dr. Johnson in Destination Graduation is Family Engagement Specialist Maria Hoard. She helps parents become informed and involved advocates for their children’s success in school. She does this through emails, phone calls and visits to students’ homes, along with monthly presentations by groups such as the Boys & Girls Clubs and Public Health Department.
Building relationships with parents can be challenging at times. Some of them have not had good school experiences themselves, the Family Engagement Specialist explained. Some don’t have cars or extra gas money to get to school events. “One parent said, ‘I’m on vacation this year. Don’t call me,’” she recalled. “If one thing doesn’t work, we try to figure out something else that works.”
To help students be “self-aware” and become their own advocates, they meet with their parents in a “student-led conference.” During the meeting, the students tell what they are doing at school, what they are good at, and what they need help with in order to improve. “We use the student-led conference as an opportunity to let parents know what’s going on and to give them an opportunity to get to know us,” said Dr. Johnson.
The new Destination Graduation program is truly changing lives. Principal Brown may have said it best. Thanks to Dr. Anthony Johnson and Maria Hoard, he said, children “can feel safe and feel success.”