Graduation rates climb over past decade

© 2017-Rochelle News-Leader

ROCHELLE — A decade ago, the Rochelle Township High School graduation rate that year was 86 percent. Now fast forward a decade to the RTHS Class of 2017’s graduation rate of 96 percent.
The increase didn’t happen by chance.
“Administrators and teachers from RTHS, as well as the feeders schools, have effectively used a combination of strategies to improve the graduation rate. The most effective strategy being the ongoing work to tailor our curriculum to the diverse needs and interests of our students,” principal Chris Lewis said.
Implementation of a four-year plan allows freshmen to discuss their interests and goals with the counselor before creating a semester-by-semester map of the classes they want and need so career goals as well as mandated high school graduation requirements are met.
Tailoring coursework to the four-year plan and students’ post-secondary education and career goals creates greater student interest which fosters ownership.
Navigating high school
As Semester one of your student’s eight-semester high school career comes to an end, it becomes time for a plan. That plan is under construction.  First-year students will take a draft of the plan home for parents’ review, discussion, and signatures. Four-year plans must be returned to RTHS before the end of the fall semester in December.
What is a Four-Year Plan? It is a collaborative effort between the student and the academic counselor. High school students have a broad range of academic and elective classes from which to choose. Because of very specific academic requirements for graduation, having a plan helps guide student success.
Creating a four-year plan allows each freshman to discuss their interests and goals with the counselor before creating a semester-by-semester map of the classes they want and need so both career goals and high school graduation requirements are met.
“The four-year plan is not a commitment. It is a tentative look at how classes can be laid out over the student’s high school career,” counselor Laurie Pillen said.
While meeting with freshmen, courses of study such as academic vs. career-specific programs through Kishwaukee Education Consortium are explained.  Also discussed are options such as early graduation and summer school which can free up time for elective classes during the school year.
Other questions discussed
• Are study halls in your best interest?
• Does the plan meet all the mandated requirements?
• Do the elective classes you want fit into your plan?
• What would Plan B look like? It’s good to have a backup plan
Once the plan is constructed, it is sent home for review.  
“Parents, the four-year plan is an excellent opportunity to talk with your student about his/her future plans as well as discuss how current classes are progressing,” Pillen said.
Four years of high school pass very quickly. Discussing post-high school plans and career goals now is extremely important.
“We encourage parents to sit down and look at the plan,” Pillen said. “We hope it begins a conversation that continues about long-range plans, as well as the specifics of short range plans. The four-year plan highlights student options. It shows students and parents alike how the classes fit together.”
The four-year plan should be signed and returned before the end of the fall semester (before the holiday break) because registration meetings regarding the sophomore year scheduling begin in January.
Families of sophomores, juniors and seniors should revisit their four-year plan to be sure students are on track. Counselors are available to touch base and help adapt the plan when necessary.

Eight grade Curriculum Night
Parents of current eighth graders – next year’s freshman class – will be invited to Curriculum Night at the high school on Dec. 6. The incoming freshmen and their parents will begin in the auditorium for an overview, and then will walk around the commons talking with representatives of the high school academic departments and extra-curricular activities.
Freshman Seminar is a stand-alone course for incoming grade 9 students designed to help freshmen transition from the middle school setting. This offering allows students academic, social, emotional, and high school transition help in order to ensure students have a successful freshman year and get on pace to graduate.
Double Up English and Math - Algebra A and Geometry A. Algebra A helps reinforce the structure of the real number system and Geometry A readies students to transition into Geometry students’ sophomore year and Algebra II students’ junior year.
Freshman Reading and English I. Freshman Reading is for students who need extra support in reading comprehension and general study skills. English I is the prerequisite to all English courses. These courses are designed to aid in transitioning from middle school.

Dual Credit and Advanced Placement Curriculum - As demand for and student success in dual credit courses (high school and college) and Advanced Placement classes grows, so have RTHS offerings. RTHS now offers dual credit and/or AP classes in each department — in some cases, multiple classes. When students are challenged in their areas of interest, they raise their performance to collegiate-level expectations.
School climate and discipline - The campus is a jewel in the city. It is a place every student can be proud of. It is also a safe second home. RTHS discipline policy is simple and straightforward. Students know what is expected of them as well as the consequences bad decisions bring. Students who may struggle with a wide variety of issues know they can find support within RTHS.
The G-Force - A mentoring program designed to keep students in school, passing classes and graduating. The program also helps older students prepare for life after high school.
G-Force propels students upward
Veteran teacher Pat Mullin retired from the Spanish classroom in 2008 to create what she called the G-Force, a mentoring program designed to help students in order to keep them in school and passing their classes.
“These are kids who feel they don’t belong, that they are not Rochelle Hubs,” she said. “They don’t feel that love for the high school. They really don’t like to study, really don’t want to be here; would prefer to drop out of they could.”
Mullin’s challenge: Make sure they do study, that they don’t drop out, and that in the process, they gain some school spirit.
Mullin hosted a graduation celebration at semester’s end. All of her G-Force students shared a graduation cake bearing their names.
G-Force 2008 – 2012 (4 ½ years)
• 41 students graduated high school
• 5 students received General Education Diplomas
• 12 students on schedule to graduate in May
• 8 students on track to graduate Summer of 2012
In 2013, Linda Wegner defined the G-Force as the force needed to accelerate a body. Students use G-Force Intervention to overcome whatever is pulling them down.
Wegner maintained a guided study hall program where homework was monitored for quality, completion and grades. Tutoring and guidance were offered to help students develop and refine organizational and study skills, explored career opportunities. As needed assistance was provided for behavioral interventions.  
In 2013 the RTHS the G-Force intervention roster was at capacity (60 students), but that roster was fluid. As students no longer need assistance, room was made for those that do. Teachers refer students to academic counselors. When it is determined G-Force might offer a solution, they are placed as space opens up. Students failing multiple classes are considered for placement.  
Ann Rice oversees the G-Force in 2017. Her enrollment is 30-45
And, if the G-Force isn’t enough to help students get back on track of their four-year plan, alternative education programs are available.
Building on the momentum
“We want to increase the number of students who leave here ready for their tomorrow (referring to the D212 mission statement). At the school and class level, career and college readiness will be a focus. On the student level, we’ll work to develop personal post-secondary career goals,” Lewis said when talking about the steady climb in the district’s graduation rate. “[This will happen by] having more intentional conversations about how to get ready for life after high school with our students. We are using real-time data to show our students how ready they are to achieve the post-secondary goals they have set for themselves. This is exciting because it puts our students in control.”