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Giving failing students a helping hand

Posted 3/02/11 (Wed)

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

With a continually growing drop-out rate, school administration at Watford City High School decided it was time to do something to help more of its students to succeed. And the school’s new At Risk Coordinator is hopeful that for the 2010-2011 school year, the school will have a 100 percent graduation rate.
Faith Lam, Watford City High School’s At Risk Youth Coordinator, began working at the school during the last week of January, and she already has 23 students and high hopes of making a big difference.
“We hired Ms. Lam because we didn’t really have an alternative for students lacking credits to graduate or those who move here and are behind,” says Jay Diede, Watford City High School principal. “In conjunction with the new position, we have also added a credit recovery program, essentially a school within a school. The credit recovery program allows students to work at their own pace to make up credits they are missing.”
Lam works with students who are enrolled in the credit recovery program, as well as those students who are struggling in their regular classes.
“Every week when the ineligible list comes out, I get the students on the list and start working with them,” adds Lam. “We talk about the school problems and most of the time, there are other problems contributing to the school issues, so we also talk about that and figure out how to make things work for them so that they can succeed in school.”
Prior to working at Watford City High School, Lam worked in Florida with at risk youth from inner city schools.
“I graduated from Fairview High School and I was looking for a slower pace and opportunity to move back home, so this job was a perfect fit,” says Lam. “Even though this is a much slower pace than what I was used to in Florida, I was still surprised to see the amount of need here.”
Lam currently has 13 students in the course recovery program, including two 18-year-olds who dropped out of high school and through the program have come back to graduate.
Andrew Pantaleone is one of the students who has come back after dropping out.
“I had no good reason for dropping out. I was just young and dumb,” says Pantaleone. “I thought I would be better off just getting a job. But I soon found out that no one wants to hire you without a diploma, so jobs were hard to get.”
Pantaleone eventually decided he was tired of being broke and being told that without a diploma he couldn’t get a job so he went back to the school to check into graduating.
“Andrew came to me and asked what he had to do to graduate,” adds Diede. “The timing was great because we had just started the credit recovery program. So instead of taking his entire senior year over, he is able to make up the credits he missed.”
Pantaleone takes some of his courses in a regular classroom setting and others on a computer in Lam’s classroom.
“The kids in the credit recovery program are enrolled in school and required to be here just like everyone else,” says Lam. “The difference is that through the credit recovery program, he is able to choose classes that interest him, and I am here to help him more than a regular classroom teacher because I’m not teaching the class.”
Although the students in the credit recovery program work independently, Lam is able to monitor each student from the computer at her desk. So when a student is taking a section quiz and they are struggling to get the right answers, she can help them go through the section again right then, instead of waiting until the paper has been graded and then going back.
“Working with these students and seeing how well they are doing is really amazing,” comments Lam. “I have one student in the credit recovery program for English, and in just three weeks he has completed forty percent of the course and he is doing a good job.”
Lam has also been a great asset for new students.
“There are a lot of new students who are having a hard time fitting in. And that, combined with the changes in their lives, has made success a difficult thing for them to find,” states Lam. “But that’s okay because that is why I’m here. It also helps that I was the new kid during the boom in the ’80s. For me, moving to a new school as a sophomore was a horrible experience. But for now, it is a great way for me to relate to some of the new students.”
It doesn’t matter the size of the community or the quality of the teachers, there are always students at risk, and hopefully, with the addition of Lam, Watford City High School will be able to help more of those students.