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On track for graduation

Briana Sanchez / Tribune Margaret Schmitz, science teacher at Willmar Senior High, and Jana Peterson, coordinator for 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant, talk March 22 at the high school about the different types of programs that are a part of the grant.1 / 5
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Students at Willmar Senior High talk March 22 about their experiences in the Credit Recovery program at the high school. Students who fail a class may have the option of making up credits through the after-school program, rather than going to summer school or retaking the class.2 / 5
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Margaret Schmitz, science teacher at Willmar Senior High, helps a student with a question March 22 during the Credit Recovery program at the high school. Students who fail a class may have the option of making up credits through the after-school program, rather than going to summer school or retaking the class.3 / 5
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WILLMAR — Life at Willmar Senior High School can be a bit of a shock to an incoming freshman.

Classes are more difficult, and they move faster. It's easier to fall behind and if you don't catch up, you won't get credit for a class.

The reasons students fall behind are varied. Some don't take things as seriously as they should. Some struggle with academic English. Students of all ages can fall behind because of illness or family situations that cause extended absences.

In the last year and a half, the school's Credit Recovery program has given them a chance to catch up. More than 90 students have earned credits through the after-school program.

Students who are within 10 percent of passing in science and 5 percent in math can, with approval from their teachers, use the program to make up the work. It operates four days a week, two for science and two for math.

Credit Recovery offers another option for students who need to make up credits. Some kids choose to transfer to the Area Learning Center, which has a different system of awarding credits. Some make up credits at the ALC's evening program.

Credit Recovery lets them stay at the Senior High and stay on track to graduate with their class, said science teacher Rob Flegel, one of the teachers who works with the program.

Once students complete a course through Credit Recovery, the original failing grade is changed to Pass, which looks better on the transcript than an F, said Margaret Schmitz, another science teacher working with the program. Math teachers working with the program are Katie Schieck and Kaylee Helgeson.

"Test anxiety" holds some students back, Flegel said, and "sometimes they don't understand the consequences of procrastination."

Among some students gathered recently, the reasons they were making up a credit covered a range. For Abdi, a sophomore, it was a struggle with taking tests and with reading English. Raba, a freshman, struggled with time management. Cindy, a sophomore, had missed some school because of an extended family trip. Denise, a sophomore, said she just did not take things seriously enough.

Schmitz said students in grades 9-12 have participated in Credit Recovery. Their original classroom teachers tell the program what the students have to do to earn credit in their class, and students sign a contract. If they are not showing up or are not making progress, they are dropped.

It usually does not take long for students to complete their missed course, Schmitz said. Some students do it in a few sessions; some take a couple months. The work is done at the after-school program and does not add to their homework load.

Without Credit Recovery, students could retake a class, but the students did not see that as an attractive option.

Schmitz said the students in the program work hard to gain that credit they lost and stay on track. If they have to retake classes, students can have fewer options for electives.

Cindy said she appreciated the chance to finish her missing credit. "If you want to take the whole class again, go for it, but I don't want to," she said.

Abdi, a soccer and tennis player, called the program a great idea — "If you have missing credits, you're not going to play soccer."

Do the students have advice for other students facing credit issues? "To actually do their work," said Cindy. Added Denise, "It's not like middle school; not at all."

Credit Recovery is funded by the school's 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant. Willmar Middle School also has a grant. The grants offer academic enrichment outside school hours. The 21st Century grants are not included in President Donald Trump's original budget proposal.

Jana Peterson, a business teacher who coordinates the 21st Century Learning program, said it offers other after-school programs in addition to Credit Recovery, including coding club, culture club and art club. The program also provides snacks and transportation home.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340
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