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Study-skills class is changing lives

Crescent View offers safety net to failing 9th-graders

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SANDY — Stephanie Coleman knew her son was on a slippery slope when he brought home nearly all failing grades.

The ninth-grade boy didn't much care about school. And his mom feared his disinterest could lead to future problems, perhaps with the law.

But Crescent View Middle School during the past year unfurled a safety net to catch students like Brent Coleman. It's called a study-skills class, and it reduced the numbers of failing students by 83 percent in its first semester.

As for Brent Coleman: He lifted his 0.6 grade point average to a 4.0 in one quarter.

"Mr. Olson's class changed the way I do my school work," the boy said of his study-skills teacher, Michael Olson. "He's a nice teacher and willing to work with you."

Ninth grade is a crucial year. It's when the state begins counting credits toward high school graduation. Any failures have to be made up. Some students rack up so many failures they drop out.

Crescent View every year has been sending about 170 students to high school with at least one failing grade. That's about 30 percent of the ninth-grade class, principal Al Zylstra said.

Such failures stack up on students emotionally. They are intelligent but don't think they can succeed. They often don't do even the simplest things, such as turning in completed homework. They just don't want to risk another failure.

"These students come to school most every day knowing that academic expectations will collide with their impermeable defense," said Zylstra, who had similar difficulties while in school. "The result is that students suffer pain."

Crescent View now has resources to alter the trend.

The school received about $12,000 from State School Trust Lands interest, of which every Utah school receives a part. It created a study skills class for failing ninth-graders and paid teachers to work with them outside school hours.

The course requires involvement from teachers, students, and parents —sometimes the biggest obstacle, language arts teacher Michelle Shimmin said.

But when all parties work together, they raise student achievement.

Here's how it works.

Students, teachers and parents develop a plan for each student. They assemble individualized planners, which list assignments and due dates for every class.

In the study-skills class, students learn how to set and achieve goals, communicate with teachers and keep up with school work.

The skills helped Brent Coleman raise his grades, which boosted his self-esteem, his mother said. He learned to take ownership of his education, and he even tutors other students.

Teachers in the program track eight or so students each quarter. They keep in close contact with the students, forming caring relationships crucial to academic success, and with their parents about progress or problems.

"Sometimes, it's the first time the students have felt important," science teacher Allison Powers said. "These are the ones who have been lost. Most of them are happy to perform for you, because you care. It's that support."

Midway through the first quarter, 167 ninth-grade students were failing one or more classes needed for high school graduation. By the end of the quarter, 115 students passed every class. Of the 52 students who failed at least one class, 23 passed them all in the second quarter.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, the Draper Republican who represents the school community at the Legislature, praises the program's success. And his view isn't that of an outsider.

His son, Geoff, was enrolled.

Geoff Stephenson was having difficulty with reading and writing, and his grades were slipping. His parents continually worked with him, but to no avail.

"We were lost," Sen. Stephenson said. "Until he had this program, we didn't know what he was going to do. We were concerned about his success in school and the ripple effects on his life."

But now, Geoff's grades are looking up, his father said.

"We feel he has a great future."

E-MAIL: jtcook@desnews.com