Arizona Department of Education

AIMS Intervention and Dropout Prevention Program TOOLKIT

Exemplary Program

WINGS Academy at Flagstaff High School (2009 Profile)

Contact information

Sharon Falor, Assistant Principal

Flagstaff High School

400 West Elm

Flagstaff AZ 86001

(928)773-8106

sfalor@fusd1.org

Description

The Wings Academy at Flagstaff High School (FHS) targets entering freshmen who are academically at risk. The program offers academic and behavioral interventions during part of the school day, while maintaining the students’ freedom to explore a wide range of course offerings outside the Academy. Flagstaff High School’s goal is to divert the failure syndrome and to retain the integrity of the freshman class through promotion and completion of all introductory high school course work.

The Wings Academy embeds three year-long courses into a block schedule, providing the Wings freshmen with English, Math, and Projects on a year-long basis within the Academy. The school manipulates the Master Schedule to foster a small learning community and culture within the walls of a large comprehensive high school. This allows FHS the chance to advocate for the most “at-risk” students by designing a learning community which fosters relationships, communication, systematic interventions, and accountability for students, parents, teachers, and administrators. The Wings Academy operates during first and second periods (8:00 am to 10:55 am) daily. Students reenter the flow of the traditional high school for third and fourth periods. This hybrid design provides for a common team preparation period, so team teachers can establish clear parameters and priorities that will guide their work toward the goal of improved learning and promotion of every member of the Academy. The Wings Academy provides systematic interventions during the day, a more personal learning environment, strong communication between school and home, and an enriched curriculum with the infusion of technology. “Wings” represents a part of the school mascot, the Eagle.

Number of students completing the program in 2009: 71

Program design

Goals

Among the program’s goals are to:

  • Assure that the students have the educational foundation required for a successful high school career
  • Create a small learning community that will allow these students to succeed academically and personally and form a true attachment to high school
  • Help students experience a new type of relationship with teachers and fellow students
  • Expand student life experiences through special activities and field trips
  • Develop student awareness of and involvement with the community through community projects
  • Prevent the need for special services and referrals in future grades

Philosophy

The school leadership believes that students in need deserve advocates. Because historically their system allowed freshmen to fail one or more classes before attempting to provide academic interventions, the Wings Academy is designed to be proactive and provide assistance before a student fails rather than trying to remediate after the student becomes disenfranchised. The school leadership saw a need for a school within a school to provide safety nets for at-risk freshmen early in their career to prevent failure, dropping out or becoming transient from school to school, as occurs with many Native American students. It would also keep at-risk students from melting into the school and not progressing in earning credits as they need to. The Wings Academy allows the teachers and administrators to get to know the students differently, monitor them, and intervene more systemically so that high school will not be hit or miss for these students. Many of the interventions the program offers are designed with the knowledge that initially this group of students is more likely to participate and be successful as a group than individually.

Students

What contributes most to student success?

  • Extended-day and extended-year schedules
  • Achieve 3000 Curriculum (Teen Biz)
  • Personal skill development in Projects course
  • Systematic intervention through labs
  • Small learning environment
  • Home Coordinator contact with families
  • Infusion of technology in classrooms
  • Personalized instructional support

These are described in various sections below.

Background

The students who enter the program are a diverse group with various types of risk factors: low achievement, special needs, learning disorders, behavioral disorders, difficult family situations, transience, low English proficiency, and more. This year’s group was 43% white, 34% Native American and 20% Hispanic. Many of the Native American students come from reservations, both in and out of Arizona. The Wings Academy serves first-time 9th grade students who have demonstrated:

  • Poor attendance patterns in middle school
  • Low academic performance in middle school
  • Weak achievement on standardized tests in middle school
  • Speak English as a second language
  • Vocational barriers to success
  • Disciplinary and socialization issues in middle school

Recruitment

Each year, spaces are limited to about 85 students. One of the strengths of the program is its small size. Students are recruited in a couple of ways. Middle school teachers and counselors recommend students for the program based on their academic and learning needs. Students who request a year-long freshman English or pre-algebra class are candidates for the program. Middle school teachers sign the request form. Students who have attained at least a 4th grade reading level (not lower) are eligible. Structured English Immersion students and special needs students are eligible. Students are also recruited through parent informational forums that are held for parents of middle school students. Registration for the program occurs in March. Of the 85 spaces available, about 30 are reserved for a selection of Native American freshmen who reside in the FHS dormitory (FHS serves a substantial number group of Native American students). Parents must sign off for all students entering the program. The program’s reputation has grown to such an extent that the number of parental requests to enter the program cannot be met.

Setting goals

Student goals are developed in various ways. The guidance counselor works with students to develop their 4-year plan and review it with them on a regular basis. Additionally, the counselor is responsible for the development of a portfolio on each student’s academic achievement to date, discusses any accommodation plans, and schedules any necessary testing for students. Wings Academy participants review their academic record at the conclusion of their freshman year. At that time, students are extended an invitation for placement in Algebra I with their current Pre-algebra teacher, and for English students are placed in the AIMS Test Prep course with their current English teacher. Students who are enrolling in CTE can select a course of their choice since they will have satisfied the prerequisite with the completion of the Wings Projects class. The pathway to Trade and Industry, Culinary Arts, and Business is open to them as well. At the classroom level, teachers work closely with students on setting and achieving both personal and learning goals. Students also develop group goals in their small grant and community service projects.

Taking responsibility for learning

Students taking responsibility for their own learning is one of the implicit focuses of the program. Through the program’s structure and design, students increase their understanding of what learning is about and are held accountable for focusing on their work and mastering the content. Teachers work at a slower pace and use multiple teaching styles that permit them to meet all students’ needs. Teachers keep working with students until they “get it” and students learn what it means to get it. Students also learn to ask questions and articulate their needs. The learning skills that they develop through the program are necessary for their success in future classes. The students also develop the understanding that school is a place where they come to learn.

Motivation and incentives

A major component of the Wings Academy is creating educational and life experiences that motivate students in unprecedented ways. The program involves students in a number of activities that are designed to boost student morale, give them a positive schooling experience, and create an attachment to school. Many of the students have not seen the need for or the relevance of education in their current or future lives. For many of the students, the Wings Academy offers the first truly positive schooling experience they have had. One of the most exciting activities for the students is attending a Diamondbacks game. Many of them have never been to Phoenix or attended any type of professional sporting event. In addition, the students tour the Grand Canyon and go on a hike. They tour the NAU and Coconino Community College campuses. They attend a dramatic performance at NAU. The group cooks a pancake breakfast for the entire school and also receives a pancake breakfast on a different day. They have an ice cream social that is attended by the Mayor. They design a Wings Academy t-shirt that they receive at the end of the school year. Every day a Wings student reads the school announcements over the intercom with a senior.

During the first semester, groups of 6 to 8 students each lunch with their teachers on Fridays. Every student gets this opportunity. This activity is a way for the students to feel comfortable developing a closer personal relationship with their teachers. It makes them feel valued as individuals and not just as students.

Through these and other activities, students have a sense that they are something very special, a privileged group in the school. They do not experience a negative stigma, which is typical for at-risk students. They know the school is giving them these opportunities to help them succeed and that makes them feel valued. Lots of people in the school know their names, which is also something special. In the words of the Assistant Principal, "These students have never been in a privileged group in their life."

Perspectives

Group interviews were conducted with about 10 students in the current Wings program and about 10 students who had participated last year and are currently sophomores.

Students currently in the program were very enthusiastic about the program and gave many examples of aspects of the program they liked and ways it was helping them. There were three main ideas that nearly all the students talked about. The first was that teachers were there to help them and really cared about them. Students expressed in different ways that the teachers work with them until they really “get it” and they don’t stop until they do get it. There was a great sense of appreciation for their teachers. Related to this was the idea of having enough time to understand what they were learning. The second idea was that they liked being in a small group of students. A number of the students said they were afraid to come to high school because they thought they would never make friends there. Through this program, they have gotten to know their fellow students really well, especially through the special projects and small group work that they do on a regular basis. Many believe they will remain close friends throughout high school. A third common idea expressed by the current Wings students is that the program makes them feel special. They named numerous special activities that they got to participate in that were beyond anything they had previously experienced at school. The first was attending the Diamondbacks game in Phoenix. Another was visiting the NAU campus. A third was having lunch with the teachers on Fridays. These activities were discussed in detail and were obviously tremendous motivators for the students. When asked about what they see themselves doing after high school, they all talked about things that excited them. Some talked about jobs, careers and special interests (mechanics, teaching, music, soccer, going into business). Others talked about continuing their education in a 4-year college or going to community college.

Students in the current sophomore class were asked if and how the program had prepared them for the sophomore year. Many said they would not be doing as well as they are if they hadn’t been in Wings. The special attention, the small group of students and teachers, and year-long classes helped them settle into high school. The students said they missed the attention and the special activities they got to do in the program. Several said they were not prepared for the fast pace of regular classes they have this year, which had required a lot of getting used to. Many of the students visit the teachers they had had in Wings due to the close bonds. They said it was hard to have the same kind of relationship with their teachers in their current classes.

Instituional Support

Planning and decision making

The program design is a collaboration between the school leadership, teachers, counselors, and administrators. In addition to the English, Math and Projects teachers, the Wings Academy has one guidance counselor, two traditional academic support aides, one Home Coordinator, an assistant principal for Discipline, and an assistant principal for Curriculum. The program team meets and communicates regularly to keep the program on track or make necessary changes to produce the desired outcomes. The leadership and teachers discussed the fact that they often tweak aspects of the program as they learn what works and what doesn’t work as intended. There is a constant learning process under way. For example, after the first year of the grant they brought the Home Coordinator to work within the classroom and within the building to help with tracking and communication between teachers, families, and students. In the past, they had worked primarily outside the classroom. This change has allowed the Home Coordinator to be more informed and knowledgeable regarding student performance and behavior.

Staff and staff effectiveness

Relationship building is viewed as the key to the success of the program and to the success of the future of these students. Furthermore, the best kind of learning is thought to occur when there is mutual respect and interest between the teacher and student. One of the criteria for hiring teachers at FHS is the person’s commitment and interest in developing close relationships with students, not just teaching a subject area. In the Wings program this is even more evident. The teachers in this program stress their interest on the relationship building aspect of their job. The structure of the program gives them the opportunity to spend more time and work more closely with the students. They are with the same students for the entire school year, and the students are divided up into three separate class groups. The math teacher commented that in her other classes, she has a very different type of relationship with the students because their time together is limited and they have much more subject matter to cover in a shorter period of time.

Professional development

Teachers receive professional development by attending outside trainings. The Wings Academy team also works closely together on a regular basis to improve instructional strategies, devise curricular links between the three Wings classes, and discuss ways to address specific student issues. The Wings Academy teachers meet every Wednesday to give updates on the classes, assignments, grades, and student issues. They use this time for planning and strategizing as well as discussing individual students. The teachers often research and discuss instructional strategies they can use to get across difficult concepts. Because their students have different types of learning abilities, they find that they need to communicate information in many different ways. The team approach permits the teachers to form a cohesive unit and ensures that they meet the needs of the group and of individual students In addition, teachers communicate with other 9th and 10th grade teachers of math and English to make sure the Wings students are on a par with their classmates and are receiving the content they need to succeed in their subsequent classes.

Continuity across grade levels

After participating in the Wings Academy, students remain with their math teacher in their sophomore year. This allows students to maintain a close relationship and learning continuity with key teachers. Teachers and staff also rotate in and out with each class, thus reducing the possibility of burn out. Teachers are in the Academy for a year, then out for a year. Wings students continue to be closely monitored by the counselors and administrators throughout their high school career. Their AIMS scores, grades, attendance and other behaviors are also compared with their non-Wings cohort to assess the impact of the program.

Program evaluation

The program is evaluated in various ways and at various levels. Students are constantly being evaluated. Teachers conduct numerous types of evaluations on student learning and performance. Parents fill out questionnaires to provide feedback. The school leadership conducts regular assessments of student performance and behaviors. They also work with the staff to evaluate all aspects of the program for program improvement.

Program environment

Attendance

Building consistent attendance is key for this population of students. Students receive five attendance marks per day. The Wings teachers communicate closely with each other about student attendance. By having five marks per day, students learn to take more responsibility for their whereabouts and also learn the relationship between attendance and learning. Despite the close supervision, attendance continues to be an issue for many of the students in the program. Many times, family circumstances (economic factors, job loss, moving residences, migration, etc.) affect attendance in this group of students.

Student-teacher relationships

Relationship building is what makes the students succeed in this program. According to the assistant principal, one of the lessons learned from the grant is how many people and how much effort it takes to provide the support that will change the patterns of behavior for this type of at-risk student. It requires much more effort than was originally anticipated. The school is learning from experience and providing the additional personnel that these students need. Another lesson learned is that it takes two to three months to gain their trust and an entire year to demonstrate their success.

Parent and family involvement

Parents must provide approval for their child to enroll in the program. They find out about the program either through their child’s teacher or counselor at middle school, through the parent information forums, or through public sources such as articles in the newspaper. Open houses, registration fairs, and “Connect Ed” calls help families stay connected to not only Wings but to FHS.

A new on-line program was initiated this year for all parents but has been particularly recommended for parents of Native American students whose children are living at the dorm. Parents accessing the on-line program can keep tabs on student records, grades, attendance, and other information. If a student’s GPA goes below 2.5, the Home Coordinator arranges a parent/teacher visit.

Parents receive phone calls not only when there are concerns about their child but also when there is good news to report. For example, the Home Coordinator calls parents when students get all Cs or better. Parents appreciate the close communication about their child’s situation and progress. This communication provides reinforcement for the students and gives the Academy a strong reputation. One of the program’s successes is that no student has been removed from the program by a parent. To the contrary, parents have made requests for the program to continue into the sophomore year based on their satisfaction with their child’s academic and behavioral achievements.

Partnerships and linkages

  • Northern Arizona University and Coconino Community College host student visits to campus.
  • Peers Program: This is a peer mentoring group that interacts with the Academy on a weekly basis.
  • Family Resource Center offers resources, such as bus passes, to students who do not have transportation after tutoring.
  • Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce: Provides Career speakers and workplace tours to help familiarize students with potential career options.
  • Character Education Program: Focuses on the guiding principles students need to be successful in high school and life.
  • The Mayor participates in an end of year ice cream social.

Prevention and social services

Due to the high-risk history and potential of this group of students, teachers, administrators, counselors and home outreach staff work together to identify and provide services for Wings Academy students and, in some cases, their families. Teachers refer students to counselors when they learn about personal and family problems that need more attention than what a teacher can provide. Some of the most extreme examples that occurred during this past year included pregnancy, runaways, assault, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Home outreach staff, counselors, administrators and teachers all have roles in communicating with students and suggesting avenues of support for various types of problems. Staff members also contact parents. The assistant principal remarked that not only do they get to know the students well, but they also get to know the families and create strong connections with them. Providing attention and services to students at this stage attenuates more persistent and critical problems that would otherwise arise later. Counselors work with students individually and in groups. Support groups are available to Wings Academy students to help them deal with problems at home, gang issues, drug prevention, relationships, and other issues.

Academics

Curriculum

The students take pre-algebra, English and a special “Wings Projects” class every day. The English course is designed to develop the skills students will need to pass the AIMS tests. Because students have varying lexile levels, the school invested in Achieve 3000 (Teen Biz) a web-based reading program. Teen Biz uses nonfiction materials and allows each student in a group to read the same article at their own lexile level. Students are not aware that other students are reading the same article at a difference level, yet the entire class can work on similar assignments. The program engages them in interesting activities and assignments. It uses a closed email system so students can communicate with each other in writing, link to other sites, write and email their teachers, and engage in learning in multiple ways. The articles cover many subjects including history, current events, science, and math. The program truly captures the interest of the students. The resulting gains in English have been so strong that the school is exploring using Teen Biz for the 7th and 8th grades when the school moves to a 7th to 12th grade configuration. Because it also offers articles through the college level reading, it could be used for honors classes. The freshmen in the Academy also pursue the regular 9th grade English curriculum that includes the standard novels, vocabulary building, and writing assignments.

The curriculum for pre-algebra covers the skills students need to enter Algebra. They must pass the class with a C grade, so extra support and tutoring are available when needed.

The Projects class is thus named because it uses a project-based learning approach. It was developed by the teachers specifically for the Academy. This curriculum offers personal skill development, workplace skills training, and a community service component with an intense technology component. Each student uses a laptop from the Academy’s MacBook Wireless Mobile Lab. The students learn to use word processing, Excel spreadsheets and graphs, and Powerpoint through various exercises, projects and assignments. Much of the curriculum is geared towards workplace skills development. English and math skills are also reinforced. The culmination of the class is the school-based and community-based projects that students develop and work on in teams. Students generate their own projects that develop design, research, budget, feasibility, communication, and other skills. Visitors can peruse the Project curriculum binder that sits in the classroom to see the variety of activities students engage in. The Project’s classroom is lined with the students’ project materials.

Instructional strategies

The program staff and instructors are keenly aware of learning styles, learning levels, and learning readiness. The students are divided up into three groups and rotate between teachers in adjacent classrooms. This keeps the learning groups small, group dynamics manageable, and time available for individual attention when needed. The year-long design of math and English permits the teachers to move at a slower pace but with the same rigor. Elongating the curriculum in math, English, and projects allows the students more time to master the concepts central to high school success. The math classes move at slightly different paces, with one group advancing more rapidly. The math teacher emphasizes the work ethic needed to get the math concepts. Because the math teacher also teaches regular Algebra I to non-Wings freshmen, she is able to predict potential stumbling blocks the Wings students may have next year in Algebra and emphasize the content areas needed to prevent them. The math and English classes have the support of the Resource teachers who provides needed assistance as students engage in the material. After-school tutoring is available for math and English, and it is used. Students are referred to tutoring when their grades demonstrate they need more time than what is available during the school day. The program has a two-week extension at the conclusion of the semester for students who need additional time to complete courses.

Assessment strategies

Classroom assessments are conducted on a frequent basis to assess learning acquisition. Math tests occur on a weekly basis and the Wednesday project class is devoted to math review every other week in preparation for the test. For overall program assessment, the school uses benchmark assessments that compare the Wings Academy students to the general population of freshmen students enrolled in the same coursework. During class sessions, teachers can use the wireless ActivExpression handsets that allow them to collect student answers on specific questions to assess how many students understand the material being taught. The Wings Academy students are outpacing their peers in several areas.

Technology

The curriculum and instructional strategies in the Wings program are highly infused with technology. The Wings program has a MAC wireless mobile lab. Each student uses the same computer throughout the year. The laptops work well for these students because they do a lot of small group work and work in different configurations. The laptops are particularly helpful for the community service projects. The Wings Academy also purchased the Promethean hand held assessment devices to measure individual understanding. These devices are very effective in math and English. They inform teachers through student responses to quick questions whether re-teaching is necessary or he/she can move on to new material.

Vocational, leadership, workplace, and life skills

Community service and service learning

The students come up with their own ideas for school-based and community-based service projects. In year one, the students painted a large interior area of the school. The students created their own plan, developed a cost matrix, calculated how much paint would be needed, worked with a budget on materials, and made a final presentation about the project. The students participated in other campus beautification projects, became reading buddies for elementary school students, created a Second Chance Animal Program, conducted a Green Team Campaign, and donated articles to Flagstaff Medical Center Children's Care Unit. Students apply for mini-grants to conduct some of the projects. These projects have proved to be enriching learning experiences for the students on many levels, and also taught the students the importance of giving back to the community.

Site visit information

 

Claire Brown from LeCroy & Milligan Associates visited the Wings Academy in May 2009.

Staff interviewed

  • Sharon Falor, Assistant Principal and Wings Program Director
  • Clinton Anderson, English;
  • Gina Maurone, pre-Algebra
  • Annie Falor, Projects
  • Karen Moeller, Special Education Resource
  • Cindy Watkins, Counselor
  • Diana Schweitzer, technology
  • Eleanor Rodriquez, data clerk

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