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How One West Virginia High School is Successfully Preparing Its Students for Life in the Modern World

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August 03, 2010 09:18 pm


As a West Virginia native it is always good to go back home and see something positive going on in my home state. I recently had the chance to do just that when I visited Shady Spring High School, which is located in Raleigh County, West Virginia. The Alliance conducted the visit in conjunction with a team from College Summit, which partners with Shady Spring High School, as well as other schools, districts, and colleges around the country, to develop a sustainable model for raising college enrollment rates community-wide. The joint visit to the school was to learn about the challenges that rural schools face and see how Shady Spring is successfully meeting those challenges. To see video from the site visit, click on any of the images below.

In an ever-changing world that requires a workforce with much more sophisticated skills, many American high schools are not keeping up with the demand to see their students are prepared due to a lack of resources and other challenges. Not only are Joseph McDougalapproximately 1.2 million students failing to graduate from high school ever year,  large percentages of students who do graduate are woefully unprepared to either succeed in college or hold a good job that can provide for a family.

Shady Spring is a good example of a school that is making the most of the resources that it has and recognizes that the world is a different place than it was just a few years ago. Teachers and staff at Shady Spring understand that graduates need new skills to survive, even in a rural area of West Virginia.

What stuck out the most from my visit to Shady Spring was the admiration that nearly everyone interviewed—school leadership, administrators, teachers, and students—had for their school. In the best sense of the word, Shady Spring High School operates as a real community. The students and teachers we met were all glad to be there. Students believe that the teachers care about them because of the accessibility that they provide, even after hours. The best example of that is the teacher who gives her cell phone number to students and encourages them to call her when they need help regardless of the hour.

Students generally like their teachers and are glad when they see them outside the normal academic setting. One student recounted that he could rely on his teachers both in the classroom and out. He said that it was common for him to see one or more of his teachers attending his tennis matches after hours just to “cheer him on.”  In turn, teachers feel valued by the administration. One teacher said that she “had never been told no by the administration when she made a request.” Shady Spring teachers communicate well among themselves through a very active faculty senate. Young teachers also receive assistance through a mentoring program from their senior colleagues that makes the transition for them as new teachers much easier.

Understanding that technology is an important education tool, Shady Spring employs the latest technology in a number of ways to assist students. Teachers use Edline to post grades, send emails, make announcements, and post PowerPoint presentations for use in class. Students reported that they regularly send teachers text messages when they have questions regarding an academic concern. They also have access to laptop computers, called mobile computer labs, that help offset limited library space. Students use labs in the classrooms as a research tool to supplement the class lectures. The school has also acquired video conferencing equipment that they hope to use to allow students to take classes not offered at Shady Spring but may be WV Studentoffered elsewhere. They hope to eventually take full advantage of the equipment once they overcome logistical issues that typically challenge schools wanting to take advantage of new technology. Fortunately, the administration and teachers of Shady Spring recognize that virtual learning and online learning technologies will make the school stronger academically and are working very hard to expand those opportunities for their students.

Academic concerns are met through good parental involvement, teachers and guidance counselors that monitor at risk students, and a very good mentoring program coordinated by College Summit that matches ninth grade students who are identified early on as needing extra help with upper class students that have mastered their academic pursuits. As a result, the partnership between College Summit and the school is making a real difference in two ways. It instills students with the desire to attend college, but also helps to identify at risk students. Specifically, the school guidance counselor and teachers identify at risk students by studying student attendance rates, grade point averages that drop below a “C” average, students who failed a class the previous semester, and attendance issues that may have arisen when a student was in middle school that indicate he or she may experience similar problems in high school. Homeroom teachers pay particular attention to the students assigned to them.

Shady Spring is located in an area of West Virginia with a high concentration of coal industry and other natural resource jobs.  The abundance of these types of jobs has made it difficult in the past to motivate students to take full advantage of their academic opportunities.  That culture is changing as new technology being used in coal and other industries is requiring a much more sophisticated level of skills.  Fortunately, the leadership of Shady Spring recognizes this shifting paradigm and is working hard at developing a culture that promotes college and career readiness.

Faculty at the school noted that the Promise Scholarship, a statewide program that guarantees full tuition and books to attend a West Virginia college if certain grades and test scores are reached, has helped promote an attitude among many low income students to strive for college who otherwise would not have done so for financial concerns.  The Promise Scholarship offers those students a hope to go to college if they work hard.  An upper class student who serves as a mentor said that the really good thing about the Promise Scholarship is that even if a student does not qualify for it in the end, that student likely worked hard enough to get accepted at a good college and that then motivates them to pursue other financial assistance that will enable them to attend.  Without the hope of a Promise Scholarship many of these bright students would have never believed that college was possible.  The school guidance counselor echoed that sentiment and said he has every student apply for the Promise Scholarship because “it instills a hope in many of them that they really could go to college.”

The sense of school community that exists at Shady Spring also extends into the actual community.  Before every senior graduates, they must complete a senior project that requires them to work with a local professional to complete a career readiness project.  One student who is interested in broadcast journalism had the opportunity to work on his project with a local television news reporter.  The seniors we met all seemed to find the project not only helped them but was something they really enjoyed.

Shady Spring High School Shady Spring High School is a great example of a school utilizing the resources it has in the best ways possible. Like all schools in this modern era, Shady Spring has its challenges:  managing crowded classrooms, recruiting new teachers, finding resources to add to computer labs, and expanding virtual and online learning opportunities are all things that the school hopes to  expand.  Fortunately, Shady Spring understands those challenges and spends every day looking to build on their success.  That West Virginia “can do” attitude makes Shady Spring a role model for all schools that hope to prepare their students for success in a modern world.

To learn more about how online learning is one possible solution to three major looming educational crises, click here. And if you are interested in learning about the unique challenges and opportunities for online learning in your state, check out the Alliance’s online learning state profiles.

Digital Learning Series, Gear: Academic Supports

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.