Tiny slips of paper are stuck to a board in a small conference room next to Principal Gorman Brown’s office at Charles H. Flowers High School, each bearing the name of a ninth-grader.
If a student’s name appears on a green slip, the student has a high probability of passing the ninth grade. A yellow piece of paper means a student is likely to make it to the 10th grade on time. If a student’s name is on red, the child is at risk of failing.
Those slips of paper have gained new importance this year, symbols of the focus the Prince George’s County high school — and the entire school system — is taking to increase the number of students who make it through their freshman year without having to repeat the grade.
It’s a critical juncture in education, as students move from middle school to high school and face a host of new challenges — both academically and socially — and where falling behind in class can have far-reaching repercussions. Prince George’s County hopes to increase the chances that students make it through and has driven attention toward its youngest high-schoolers.
Deputy Superintendent Monique Davis said the school system “did a deep dive into the data” and created an early warning indicator list by reviewing a student’s attendance, grades, reading level and behavior. The list helped the school system identify the students most in need of support, and that information was passed on to the high schools to provide help to the students.
“We asked the principals to pay attention to the at-risk students,” Davis said. “We didn’t tell them what to do because they know their communities.”
Some schools, such as Flowers High School in Springdale, set up a mentor program and created “academies,” where groups of students attend the same classes together to help deal with the feeling of isolation that many students new to high school experience. Other schools, like Gwynn Park High School in Brandywine, hold monthly chats with parents to go over students’ progress.
Davis said many schools also have incorporated joint collaborative planning sessions for teachers, providing time for educators to come together to talk about best practices in addressing the academic and social needs of their students.
The efforts are paying off, and the county is hoping that the numbers will, in time, lead to an increase in its high school graduation rate.
The ninth-grade promotion rate in Prince George’s County has jumped nearly 5 percentage points in the past year, increasing from 75.5 percent in 2013 to 79.7 percent in 2014. While the percentage of students in Prince George’s who finish ninth grade on time continues to remain well below Maryland’s average of 86.8 percent in 2013, the gap is narrowing.
Unlike Montgomery County, which had a promotion rate of 85.9 percent in 2013 and has been on a slow downward trend since 2009, Prince George’s rate has continued to climb. Prince George’s has shown some of the largest recent gains in the state, jumping almost 12 percentage points in the past three years. In 2011, the rate was 67.9 percent.
Much of the credit goes to the work being done at Flowers High School, which has had double-digit gains each year since Brown took the helm.
Before Brown became principal, the promotion rate for ninth-graders was 63.5 percent. Today, it is 93 percent. In the past year, the number rose 17 percentage points.
“It’s really about having the right people in place, all working together,” Brown said.
A cadre of teachers and administrators keeps special tabs on the students who are identified as at-risk, he said. He also credits a program known as Manhood 101, another school-based mentoring program designed to improve the academics of young boys.
Brown and Gregory Brown, a history teacher and the coordinator of the school’s ninth-grade academy, are in the process of pairing the students whose names are on the red slips of paper with teachers who will serve as their mentors.
Last year, 15-year-olds Tina Nguyen and Anthony Jones were on the list of those at risk of not moving forward. Today, they are in 10th grade. They are still adjusting, but they are making better grades than they were a year ago.
Jones, who failed math his final year at Turning Point Academy, said when he arrived at Flowers he struggled in English. “It was just I never came to class,” he said. “I mean, I went to class, but I used to be late and I had a hard time catching up on the work.”
He asked for extra help in algebra, and his math teacher is tutoring him after school.
Nguyen said she remembers being scared making the transition from her 736-student middle school to Flowers, where more than 2,000 students attend. Much of her continued struggle, Nguyen said, is because English is not her first language.
“I’m really proud of where she is now,” said Gregory Brown, noting that Nguyen has been averaging a B.