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Building a 5-step program for student success at school

  • THE APPRENTICE—West Valley High School student Brad Ethier participated in a Registered Apprenticeship at Pexco—a subcontractor for Boeing—where he earned high school credit, college credit and an hourly wage during the school day.
  • READY TO TEACH—More than 100 preschool and childcare workers attend quarterly workshops in the West Valley School District.

A student success program at West Valley School District #208 in Yakima, Washington, provides additional support for learners from pre-K through high school graduation.

The initiative includes five steps:

  1. Collaborations between childcare and district kindergarten teachers that prepare children to start school
  2. Small group exercises with a whole-child focus
  3. Reading and math interventions in grades 3 and 4
  4. Programs that ensure students are ready for algebra by grade 8
  5. Dual credits, coursework and apprenticeships that prepare students for careers and college

“The strength of our pre-K initiative is that we are getting positive results on how this early-learning focus has positively impacted our students,” Superintendent Michael Brophy says.

Getting ready for first grade

Brophy implemented the five-step program when he came to the district in 2011.

Since Washington does not have universal pre-K, Brophy launched an initiative to train community preschool and childcare providers alongside West Valley kindergarten teachers. Originally, only three childcare providers participated in these workshops; now 17 preschools take part quarterly. West Valley kindergarten teachers have also guided more than 100 childcare workers in aligning their lessons with district curriculum.


SIDEBAR: West Valley School District


Additionally, preschools administer an assessment every spring to identify children who may need extra help before entering kindergarten. These students participate in a four-week Jump Start to Kindergarten summer session before the new school year.

Once in kindergarten, students work in small groups that rotate through workstations that are led by educators who teach social-emotional skills, developmental writing, literacy and numeracy.

Originally, kindergarten was one-half day and based on tuition, but the district eventually funded free, full-day enrollment. “It is critical to narrow the achievement gap for children at the most critical stage—entering kindergarten,” says Brophy.

Helping with numbers

In the 2012-13 academic year, West Valley administrators realized that most students drop out of high school because of math, and that those who excel in grades 7 and 8 generally stay on track for graduation.

Now, all district elementary schools have a certified teacher who leads a math intervention team for grades 3 and 4. These teams assess students in math and literacy every week, then pool resources from a Response to Intervention model to provide extra help.


SIDEBAR: Percentage of kindergarteners ready for math


Instruction focuses on algebra readiness in grades 5 through 8, with science teachers also covering math principles. Next year, the district will start the AMPED curriculum in which math and pre-engineering educators co-teach classes.

Beyond high school

West Valley provides dual-credit programs through five local colleges. In a three-year, early-childhood education initiative that was created in spring 2017, first- and second-year high school students serve as tutors during small-group instruction in an elementary classroom once per week. In their third year, students spend four days per week tutoring the next cohort of young teachers.

Recently, emphasis has shifted from college prep to career readiness. “Every student is hopefully going to have a career, but not everyone is going to finish college,” says Brophy.

West Valley now allows juniors and seniors to obtain industry certifications by working with local companies, including Pexco Aerospace that makes parts for aircraft interiors.

By their senior year, students can participate in the registered apprenticeship program, in which they spend half days working on site with local companies. “Seniors are actually getting paid to go to school through this program,” says Brophy.

Once accepted into an apprenticeship, students also learn valuable soft skills, such as getting to work on time. “It’s been pretty remarkable,” says Brophy.