Promotion Coaches stress importance of strong freshman year

A student's freshman year in high school can set the bar as to how that student will perform through the rest of high school. Just staying afloat isn't good enough.

A pilot program from Johns Hopkins University gets help to struggling ninth graders through promotion coaches. You've seen the program in action in two area schools. The promotions coach's job is research and data driven. The coach has the responsibility of pulling together various resources throughout a community to make sure problems are addressed and students get on track sooner rather than later.

Montevallo High School is wrapping up it's first year with a coach. Parker High liked the program enough to move into a second year.

Donna Dickson is Montevallo's promotion coach. Her job as coach is to facilitate sessions and activities for freshman students and track the students' progress. "I monitor the data and then I look at interventions that we can bring in and give to the teachers to work with the students," said Dickson.

She's one of twenty promotions coaches in high schools throughout the state. Two years ago, the Alabama Department of Education applied for a research grant from Johns Hopkins University. The purpose is to determine if it is beneficial to have a person work specifically with freshman students, and ultimately increase graduation rates. "We really look at it as the ABCs, attendance behavior and course credit," said Dickson.

Montevallo high is just nine months into the program and Dickson says she already sees results. "At the end of the first nine week grading period, we had 56 of our 103 ninth graders with a failing grade. We put interventions into place and at the end of the semester had just 18 of those students with a failing grade."

At A.H. Parker High School, this is the school's second year with promotions coach, Doctor Veronique Zimmerman-Brown. She says what a difference a full year has made. Freshman suspensions were nearly cut in half during the first year. She attributes part of their success to paying close attention to the data."Data doesn't lie. It doesn't. It slaps you in the face. It doesn't feel good, but it doesn't lie. So having people pay attention to the data and making decisions based on that and doing further investigations and analysis we're able to really see in children what's going on and how can we help them," said Zimmerman-Brown.

She says reaching students at the freshman level is critical. "Sometimes these students don't understand how much education can play a vital role in helping them to escape some of the things that they are trying to get away from, lifestyles, dealing with family or insecurities. But I see education being a key component of that."

The promotions coaches are only at a school for two years. The idea is that the coaches will help establish resources and practices that the school will continue even after the coach is gone.