In the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year, 4,000 middle and high school students in the Salt Lake City School District received one or more Fs, a number which was 1,500 students more than the year before, according to a study published by The Salt Lake Tribune. At Highland, the percentage of students who received one or more Fs increased from 20 percent to 28 percent.
This is a trend that is not unique to Highland. Data from schools across the nation show that failing grades spiked this past year particularly for students who remained fully remote. Reasons for this trend vary from students’ domestic responsibilities to lack of motivation, lack of reliable WiFi and resulting internet issues, and lack of communication with parents.
During this time, counselors have been trying to assist students who are struggling academically through student advocates. Claudia Kassner, Highland counselor, explained their role:
“Students advocates staff keep track of students who are missing school [or] struggling academically, make phone calls home, set meetings with parents, students, and counselors to address academic issues,” Kassner said. “Counselors encourage parents and students to communicate their struggles with teachers and ask for help, counselors make schedule adjustments, when is needed, add make up packet classes to students’ schedule, encourage students to attend school every day and to participate in class.”
Counselors have been paying particular attention to 12th grade students by keeping track of graduation requirements and sending emails and letters home reminding students to make up credits that are missing.
Another way the administration has been trying to reach students is through the Student Council Committee (SCC), which meets every Wednesday. Kassner says it is a time when everyone involved with a student’s experience at school, from their parents to their counselors, meet to form an individualized plan.
“We discuss strategies to help students who are struggling, and we come up with an individual plan to help each student who are struggling academically and is not attending school,” Kassner said. “If students and parents can attend home visits are made by two school staff.”
With more students than ever failing classes during a year made challenging by the isolation and remote learning environment necessary during a global pandemic, the need for credit recovery classes is also greater than it has ever been in the past and crucial to making sure these students are able to make up what was lost.
One option available for Highland students is taking the credit recovery class offered at school. According to Daniel Shwam, the teacher who runs this class, around 9,000 credits have been recovered over the past 12 years that the class has been put in place. Shwam says the credit recovery class has expanded this year to accommodate for greater needs.
“My class has run between 22 to 25 kids depending on the quarter each year. This year each class is between 40 to 45 kids and we actually have a fifth period which we’ve never had before,” Shwam said.
The credit recovery class at Highland not only allows students to retake failed classes and make up the credit, but also counts for credit as a class itself. Students can choose different options to retake classes, including through packets and through a course on canvas. The class is available to all grade levels, during all four periods and after school from 2:30 pm to 4 pm.
Highland counselor Claudia Kassner advises students who are in need of credit recovery to “check their graduation requirements on PowerSchool to identify what classes and term they need to make up, contact their counselor, and use the form [sent out to students and parents] to sign up for summer school credit recovery classes.”
Throughout the month of May, credit recovery classes will be available to seniors every Saturday from 9 am to 12 pm or 1 pm to 4 pm. The earlier session will take place in Shwam’s classroom (H015).
All SLCSD high schools will also be offering summer credit recovery classes. These classes will run from June 14th to June 30th for 11 school days, and will be available in two sessions: one from 9 am to 12 pm in-person and another from 1 pm to 4 pm online. Information on the classes offered and the application to join these classes were sent out to students on April 16 via email and can be accessed through the Ram Fam page on Canvas.
Tim Porter, Highland assistant principal and organizer of the summer school, says that more classes will be offered in the 2021 session than ever before.
“The state of Utah has provided the Salt Lake School District with additional funding which has allowed Highland High School to offer more classes for the 2021 session of summer school,” Porter said. “This year Highland will be offering a greater number of classes in summer school, which will also include online sessions as well.”
For those who opt to take classes during the summer in the morning session which will be held in-person, a bus will be scheduled for transportation and breakfast and lunch meals will be available. 15 classes will be offered in both sessions, and students will need to obtain at least a 60% to earn credit. Porter encourages Highland students to take this expanded opportunity to recover credit if they need it.
“Take care of your lost credit now. Don’t wait,” Porter said. “Highland has never had the funding to offer so many classes in summer school. We cannot count on funding to be available next year. So, if you have failed a class, and that class is being offered this summer, sign up and plan on taking the class this summer.”
In addition to the expanded summer school program, the credit recovery class, and packets, the SLCSD has also implemented a program to provide a few online credit-recovery courses on canvas. Information on this program can be found by visiting the SLCSD website and navigating to the Student Services page and then the District Credit Recovery Program.
Though packets can be obtained by students through their school counselor, packets can also be purchased directly from companies like Northridge Learning Center.
Shwam encourages seniors in need of credit recovery to take advantage of these opportunities to graduate on time.
“No matter what, even if you don’t walk on June 4th, if you get your credits done in the summer, you still receive a Highland High diploma,” Shwam said.
Although recovering from the damage of the past year will take time, Shwam is confident students will make it through.
“It’s a 2 or 3 year project to get our kids back where they need to be. It’s gonna take some time. There needs to be willingness on our part, the counselors, the administration, the school district, but we’ll get there. I’m positive about that,” Shwam said.
Porter echoes Shwam’s commitment to expanding credit recovery options at Highland to help students graduate on time.
“Highland High School’s administrative team’s number one goal is student learning, and that includes making sure students are ready, able, and eligible for graduation,” Porter said. “So, providing sufficient means for students to recover credit is a high priority.”