Dave Vondy, principal; Mike Mattos •

Yuma High School • Yuma, Colorado

Yuma High School

Story courtesy of Yuma Pioneer

Down list going down at YHS

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Writer: Tony Rayl

The numbers on the downlist are going down as the students' grades are going up at Yuma High School.

Student administration and staff are crediting the implementation of the Additional Opportunity for Learning (AOL) for a sudden and dramatic improvement.

"We knew it was addressing some areas," Principal Dave Vondy said, "but when you see the data it's just unbelievable."

In the first week of February, YHS had its lowest number of students on the downlist in five years. Exactly five years ago, there were 254 "F" (121) and "D" (133) grades in the first week of February. That number, for the same week, slowly decreased over the next three years, to 210 in 2006, 205 in 2007 and 193 in 2008.

That number dropped to 112 (77 "F" grades and 35 "D" grades) in the first week of February 2009.

The numbers were even more encouraging in the first week of March,  there were 125 total "D" grades (52) and "F" (73), compared to 260 just one year ago, 136 "D" grades and 124 "F" grades. There were 21 ineligible students this week, 9.1 percent of the student body, compared to 40 (17 percent of the student body) for the same week last year.

"It's a testament of the work ethic of our students and teachers," Vondy said, "as well as the support of the community, and the school board for providing us with the tools we needed to do this."

AOL involves setting aside a certain amount of time each school day for direct contact between teachers and students who are struggling in a class. YHS has had an access period at the end of the day for years, but was not very effective. AOL is much more structured, and requires participation by all students and teachers.

Yuma-1 educators received a first-hand lesson on the AOL concept during a three-day in-service last September, featuring Mike Mattos, who has co-authored a book on the "Pyramid Response to Intervention" (RTI), on which AOL is based. YHS administration and staff pursued it further and decided to implement it into the daily schedule beginning after the holidays.

As seen above, it has paid immediate dividends.

"We knew it was making a difference," math teacher Rico Cobos said, "but then the data was put up on an overhead (for all the staff to see) and it was like 'wow.'"

Working in zones

YHS has added an extra 15 minutes of required school time to its daily schedule, Tuesday through Friday. The AOL time runs 2:50 to 3:20, Tuesday through Thursday. On Friday's students are with their advisor teacher, who visits with each student about where they will go for AOL the next week. It is when teachers "recruit" students to their classroom for the next week.

Students are assigned to either the "Red Zone" "Yellow Zone" or "Green Zone."

"Red Zone" students are the ones with failing grades. They are separated even further into those who understand the work and simply are not getting it done, and those who don't get it but want to and need more time with the teachers. The former are put into a classroom where they spend the 30 minutes working on their assignments. Assistant Principal Jack Lubbers, music teacher Robert Zahller, and counselor Phillip Winn run that room with an iron hand.

"The nonsense goes out the window," Cobos said. "You have to get your work done before you leave."

The latter group are in the classrooms with teachers getting extra instruction, one-on-one as much as possible.

"Yellow Zone" students are those that are passing all their classes but might need some extra intervention, such as Read 180 (another program implemented at YHS and Yuma Middle School that is paying dividends) or ESL, or just need some extra time with a teacher to get a better grasp on what is being taught in order to keep their grade above a D or F. Yellow Zone students go to whichever teacher requests them.

Then there is the "Green Zone" the majority of students who are not struggling in any class. Currently, they are assigned to study halls, which many use to get their homework done. Students have said they find it useful to be able to collaborate with other students while doing the homework.

Green Zone students also use AOL time for Advance Placement test practice, seniors work on scholarships and other college-related tasks, and some are utilized as tutors for the Red Zone and Yellow Zone students.

Cobos is testing out having all three zones in his room. Some students are receiving instruction from him, while others work together in a tutor group, and then some receive one-on-one tutoring.

Vondy said that is the model he eventually wants in all the classrooms.

Community involvement

The school is working on plans to offer more enrichment options for the Green Zone students during the AOL time.

Vondy said he would like to get community members involved with career exploration, coming in and talking to the students about their careers and what it takes to get into that particular field. Someone who wants to share their hobby could also be a potential speaker.

Anyone with other ideas, or are interested in being a speaker, can contact Vondy at 848-5488.

Student and staff buy-in

Vondy said the staff has been great about embracing AOL, even though it means a little bit more required class time, as well as extra planning for the 13 student for whom each teacher serves as an advisor.

Students also are buying into the concept.

"The biggest change I see is the change in attitude," Cobos said. "I thought there would be more resistance from the students, but I no longer hear about having to be here an extra 15 minutes. It's strange; kids who were struggling the first semester now go out of their way to get in my room for AOL."

Counselor Laurie Unger said the Green Zone students are figuring out its a great way to get their homework done. Plus, it allows those who miss school time for athletics or other extra-curriculars such as FFA to catch up on their school work.

Vondy went over the statistics showing kids who drop out of high school likely are looking at a life of poverty, welfare and incarceration, and also acknowledged how a person's lifelong earnings greatly increase with each level of education they finish.

"This is our only chance to reach these kids," he said. "If not now, then they won't have a future."

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