Cumberland Regional School District, Bridgeton, New Jersey
Challenge: The greatest failure rate in high school occurs in ninth grade, and students who fail ninth grade are 50 percent less likely to graduate. At-risk students need to strengthen academic and social-emotional skills to successfully navigate the transition to high school.
Initiative: In the Freshman Seminar/Senior Mentoring program at Cumberland Regional High School, seniors are assigned ninth- graders to mentor. This peer support includes tutoring, and guidance in relationship-building, decision-making, social awareness and self-management. Seniors also conduct daily organizational checks, weekly conferences and notebook checks to help ninth-graders stay on track. “The program’s innovative nature has supported unprecedented success in the targeted areas of positive behaviors, academic success, absenteeism and on-time graduation,” says Lauren Taniguchi, the district’s coordinator of grants and communications.
Impact: The program has reduced suspensions, courses failed and absences. Among the 63 freshmen participating in fall 2017, four students were suspended, four failed courses, and three students accumulated more than six absences. At-risk freshmen not participating in the program were suspended eight times and failed 27 courses; 20 accumulated more than six absences.
Advice: All district staff should understand the goals of the program, as teachers serve as vital partners in supporting the mentor-mentee relationships. The senior mentors also must be selected carefully and well-trained in the expected outcomes. Finally, administrators should consider mandating the program as a credit-bearing class.