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Poston Butte High School program cuts number of failing grades by almost half
Armani Booker, left, and Mario Moreno use their remediation period to bring up their grades in biology and language arts, respectively. The boys did not know each other before the class but have since become friends (Photo courtesy of Wendy Miller, special to Independent Newsmedia Inc. USA).

A program designed to motivate students who are failing classes and celebrate students’ academic achievements is having success at Poston Butte High School, according to school Principal Dr. Tim Richard.

Dr. Richard introduced the Celebrations remediation program at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, he said during an interview last week. During the nine weeks since, the number of students with one or more Fs has declined from 555 to 274, according to a document he provided to the Queen Creek/San Tan Valley Independent.

Celebrations is an award-based program based on models Dr. Richard researched. An academic report is issued each Monday, he explained.

Students who did not have any Fs the previous week can partake in the celebration period, a 25-minute block of free time immediately following the school’s second period four days a week — Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Friday, he said.

The qualifying students can spend that time outside in the campus courtyard, in the cafeteria, at the school’s Bronco Zone or at the library, Dr. Richard said.

The Bronco Zone is a designated area named for the school’s mascot.
Students who have an F are required to use the Celebrations period to improve their grade, Dr. Richard said.

“The goal is for everyone to enjoy the celebration time. We focus on the kids who are failing and give them help,” Dr. Richard said. “It goes hand-in-hand with what we call ‘academic defiance.’ We refuse to let students fail.”

Students such as Nancy Perez like the positive atmosphere created by the Celebrations program.

“The energy is so high. Everyone is having fun,” said Nancy, who is the student council president.

“The kids feel the vibe, like, it’s a safe and fun environment; everyone wants to go to school,” said Mohammed Mohammed, a junior who is the student council vice president.

Dr. Richard started the program during the 2011-12 school year when he was principal at Westwood High School in Mesa. He brought it long when he accepted a job as principal at Globe High School in Globe for the 2012-13 school year, and integrated it into the school curriculum at PBHS now that he is principal there.

At Westwood, the program reduced the number of students with an F from 1,300 at the start of the school year to about 800 at the end, he said. At Globe High, the number was reduced from about 275 to 32, he said.

The number of fights at PBHS has declined from 11 during the first nine weeks of 2012 to zero during the same time frame this year, Dr. Richard said, which he believes is a direct result of the positive attitudes created by the Celebrations program.

Celebrations has been refined over the past two years. At Globe High, the students were rewarded with free time at the end of the school day; however, that proved problematic, he said, because kids didn’t know what to do with their time between the end of the school day and when school buses arrived to take them home.

Scheduling the Celebrations period midday is more effective, he said.
“It breaks up the day for the students and it’s easier to manage from an administrative standpoint,” Dr. Richard said.

Valeria Lopez and LaVele Ross have benefitted from Celebrations remediation, they said during an interview last week. Valeria, a senior, received an F in math because she failed to complete some assignments. She doesn’t enjoy the subject and prefers to concentrate on athletics such as volleyball and basketball, she said.

The school prohibits students with a failing grade from participating in sports; some of Valeria’s coaches require at least a C grade for students to participate, she said. She completed the work during two remediation periods and was able to return to sports and participate in the Celebrations periods with friends, she said.

LaVele calls himself a “procrastinator at heart” who decided to “push himself” by taking five Advanced Placement classes this year. It backfired, he said, and he fell behind in U.S. History and English.

He received help to bring his grades up, said LaVele, who is the student council’s junior class representative.

As a result, he spoke with school administrators to start a peer tutoring program to help decrease the number of people in remediation, he said. He was scheduled to meet with the administrators last week to discuss the program.

Sitting in remediation while their peers are outside enjoying the free time can be humiliating but it also is motivating, Valeria said.

“I told my friends ‘I’m going to get out of here,’” she said, adding it was a relief to complete her class assignments.

It took LaVele more than three weeks to complete his work and bring up his grades.

“It was horrible,” LaVele said. “My advisor told me if you need help, make sure you talk to people. The one thing I learned was a closed mouth doesn’t get fed. After I was told that by my advisor and by my dad, after hearing that, I looked for help and tried to stay focused. I had time to do those assignments but I didn’t do them.”

Both Valeria and LaVele said they appreciated having school time to complete the work because their home lives can be chaotic.

As part of the Celebrations program, teachers must document their attempts to help a student improve poor grades before they can give that student a F for the class, Dr. Richard said. They must complete an academic intervention check list that requires they confer with the student about the problem, contact the student’s parent to make sure the parent is aware of the problem and, if needed, assign the student to a mandatory three-hour tutoring session.

Celebrations helps teach students good study habits and the importance of taking responsibility for one’s actions, Dr. Richard said.

“Not all kids come to school with these skills. By focusing on the school culture, creating an environment where kids enjoy coming to school and rewarding their successes, kids will respond,” he said.

News Editor Wendy Miller can be contacted at 480-982-7799 and via e-mail at qcnews@newszap.com, or follow her on Twitter @WendyNewszap123. Be sure to like us at www.facebook.com/QueenCreekSanTanValleyIndependent.

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