The other day I received an email from Becky Bracewell-Tucker, Principal at Raines High School (RHS) in Katy ISD, that reaffirms why I believe so deeply that the Engage! Learning Model is what is right for kids. Becky’s school is a 100% at-risk alternative campus, and she has a heart and a head for making a difference for students; students who would otherwise leave school without anything to show for their 20,000 hours, except failure and low self-esteem.
My sister, Dondi, felt that way.
Dondi is beautiful, brilliant, gregarious, and she struggled all through school trying to complete assignments in the way her teacher wanted, give the right answers, and think in a linear way to fit the system. She is, like many other creative geniuses, a naturally global thinker who is highly sensitive to her environment. My sister is only 15 months younger than I, and while I thrived in the industrial system of learning, Dondi floundered. In fact, I graduated valedictorian of my class the year before she dropped out of school.
On the surface, it seems like maybe I just got all the good “smart” genes and my sister didn’t. In fact, even today, many fixed mindset people look at people like my sister and think they aren’t successful in school because they are lazy, too social, or school “just isn’t for him/her.” This, however, is not how I would describe my sister. She had artwork published in the 2nd grade. She has always seen the world in a unique way. She is marvelously gifted at being able to instantly connect with other people, and recently, when we were able to compare our IQ test scores from high school, the scores confirmed the opposite of our very different academic results–the two of us are only two points apart in IQ.
Education in America is supposed to be “for” everybody. Yet how many of us know someone who is hard-working, motivated, curious, and has left school feeling like a failure? In fact, what happens to 7% of students who literally drop out every year and what happens to the additional 60-70% who drop out mentally and cheat their way to a diploma or end up on drugs or both? They need someone to see that they need a different approach to learning.
Becky Bracewell-Tucker understands that. Several years ago, Becky went to Katy ISD Superintendent Alton Frailey and asked him if, rather than just computer-based learning, she could do something different at her alternative campus. Her campus is full of students, like my sister, who are there because school hasn’t worked for them. However, Becky wanted to use a learning model that was focused on college and career readiness skills and creativity so that her graduates could use their diploma and the skills they receive from her campus to acquire and retain quality jobs!
In his wisdom and passion for students, Superintendent Frailey agreed. So, Principal Bracewell-Tucker went to work, starting with the implementation of a project-based learning (PBL) model on her campus. She made modest gains, but knew she needed to do more. At that point, she partnered with Engage! and, over the past two years, has implemented the standards-aligned, inquiry-based Engage! Learning Model (ELM) on her campus. Students who attend RHS understand they will experience a “different way to learn, a different path to graduation,” and expect to graduate ready to face their future – in the community, at work, or in college. Changing the focus highlighted the value for what each of those “failures” from the system can bring to the world. AND, by the way, for those who measure success only by test scores, this model has delivered just that – amazing test scores!
The data I received in the recent email from this brilliant leader in Katy ISD is proving just that – take a look at the data that reveals this approach to learning is working!
With a 95% at-risk student population, in the first year of implementation, TAKS Exit scores went from 50% (or lower) passing to:
- ELA . . . . . . . . 92% passing
- Math . . . . . . . . 67% passing
- Social Studies . . . 98% passing
- Science . . . . . . 94% passing
And that is not all. The data below is reflective of the success of students who have received instruction at RHS for either one semester or two semesters in the first year of implementation and are all EOC retesters. The growth data is exceptional for students who have all failed the EOC before.
EOC Growth Data:
- Math . . . . . . . . 65% showed significant growth
- Science . . . . . . 100% showed significant growth
- Social Studies . . . 95% showed significant growth
- English I . . . . . 85% showed significant growth
- English II . . . . . 76% showed significant growth
This year, the data is even better. See for yourself
The reasons Principal Bracewell-Tucker and Superintendent Frailey initially became interested in this model is so students could not only receive their diplomas, but would also learn the life skills needed to thrive in today’s changing world. Principal Bracewell-Tucker tells us that “discipline and attendance data shows 97% of Raines’ students buy into the instructional and behavioral expectations” demanded by the ELM. Attendance and behavior are impacted when your peers are counting on you as a contributing member of their team. “Very seldom do we make phone calls to students who are absent; their teammates do it for us.” Student survey data shows students are not segregating themselves by ethnicity or economic status. “We don’t have cliques here!”
Hearing the wonderful things that are happening at RHS, I can’t help but wonder what my sister’s school experience would have been like if she had been a student on this campus. Perhaps the course of her life would have been dramatically different.
Way to go Katy Raines High School! Leadership, staff, and students are all doing the hard work of real learning!!!