A School on the Move: Shadow Hills Intermediate – An Interview with Kathy Hudson, Special Projects

Winter 2009 | | April 19, 2009 at 12:22 pm

Located in the high desert city of Palmdale north of Los Angeles, Shadow Hills Intermediate School currently enrolls 1066 students in grades 7 and 8. The student ethnicities are 68% Hispanic, 18% African American, 9% White, 2% Filipino, and 3% other; 62% participate in Free or Reduced Price Lunch. API scores increased from 2007 base of 701 to 711 in 2008. Suresh Bajnath became the principal in 2005, and Pam Williams joined the staff in 2008 as Assistant Principal/site contact for GEAR UP. Kathy Hudson was previously on the GEAR UP Leadership Team at Desert Willow Intermediate School before coming to Shadow Hills Intermediate School in 2006 as the Special Projects Teacher and joining the Leadership Team

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Kathy Hudson, Special Projects Teacher

Shadow Hills Intermediate School began participation in California GEAR UP in 2006. Please describe your school community at that time.

Shadow Hills is one of five middle schools in the Palmdale School District. We currently have a student population of 1066 students, and we are a school-wide Title I Program school. Ten percent of students receive Special Education Services and 20% of students are English Language Learners. The 2008 API is 711, with a rank of 9 out of 10 in comparison to similar schools in California. Prior to Shadow Hill’s participation in GEAR UP, individual teachers presented the message of college to their students; but there was no school-wide effort. The veteran staff has an average of 14.9 years of teaching experience which presented some challenges. Some teachers questioned the necessity of GEAR UP. They wondered if we were duplicating what was already being done and didn’t want one more thing to do. Another challenge was the idea that college might not be for everyone. There was a definite consensus that students needed more education than a high school diploma; however, the debate was over what the additional training would consist of, i.e. trade schools, on the job training, community college, ROP, or 4 year university.

What are some of the changes the school staff has made and is continuing to make to promote a college-going culture, especially this past school year, 2007-2008?

During 2007-2008 we saw changes in the perception of what the GEAR UP team was attempting to accomplish. Some of the major highlights include a full day staff in-service utilizing the AVID Student Success Path training materials, a college letter writing campaign, a college slogan contest, College Trivia Fridays during lunch, creation of two College Corner displays, conducting home visits for incoming 7th graders with each student being provided with information about college, participation in the “I can go to college” essay contest, and a College Week. Ten students were awarded Educational Trust Awards of $2,000 each. The GEAR UP team grew from 2 administrators, 3 teachers, and 1 parent to 2 administrators, 6 teachers, and 1 academic counselor. In each classroom a “How to get to college” poster is prominently displayed as well as a certificate listing the colleges/universities that staff member attended. Our social studies teachers, along with our academic counselor, utilize the College: Making it Happen booklets. We hosted parent/family education sessions through the Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE) and a one day Saturday family workshop through the GEAR UP Family Initiatives Project (FIP). Both were well-received.

In general, what is the attitude of the school staff toward the GEAR UP program and the Mission Statement, “Academic Excellence and College Access for ALL Students?”

At the conclusion of 2007-2008 more teachers were buying-in to GEAR UP. Ninety-seven percent of our staff believe all students can achieve. Staff members who were not on the GEAR UP leadership team began to participate in the College Trivia Fridays as well as present college options during home visits. The Educational Trust Awards were a huge draw. Approximately 400 applications were handed out with 100 being returned. Teachers set high academic standards for their students based on the California content standards for their content area.

GEAR UP has asked all Continuing Sustainability Project schools to show continued measurable progress of the 5 GEAR UP sustainability indicators. How is your school Leadership Team addressing these expected outcomes?

Sustainability of the Leadership Team

We have maintained and expanded our Leadership Team. For the 2008-2009 school year our team has grown to 11members. For the most part, the original core of 6 members remains the same.

Academic Rigor

Throughout the 2007-2008 school year there were several discussions regarding adding an AVID elective to the master schedule. During the summer of 2008 a team of 6 staff members attended the AVID Summer Institute and one section of AVID was added to the master schedule. In the summer of 2007 the entire staff attended an AVID Student Success Path in-service at school. The in-service was well received, and more and more teachers are utilizing the materials. It is the goal of the GEAR UP/AVID team that within 5 years AVID strategies will be implemented school-wide. In addition to AVID, all 7th graders are required to take Pre-Algebra and all 8th graders are required to take Algebra. Teachers are grouped together in houses. Each house has an Honors cluster which consists of Advanced Math for that grade level, Honors Science, Honors Social Studies, and Honors Language Arts.

Academic Counseling

We share an academic counselor with another school. Despite that challenge, she provides individual academic counseling to approximately 550 7th graders. She also works collaboratively with the social studies teachers to provide group academic counseling to approximately 500 8th graders. We currently have a counseling intern who assists and is coordinating the FIP workshop to take place during May 2009.

College and Financial Aid Information for students and families

The social studies teachers in collaboration with our Academic Counselor utilize the College: Making it Happen booklets along with resources from the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) to increase college and financial aid awareness among the students. Our AVID elective teacher infuses college awareness into her daily lessons. During the summer, approximately 200 home visits were conducted with incoming 7th graders targeted. Some of the topics discussed were the student’s plans for the future, college, financial aid, and ways for parents to become more involved in the school.

Regular Involvement of Families

This year we will host another one day Saturday family workshop through FIP. Last year we had approximately 70 parents attend the workshop. During the summer home visits parents are provided information on various ways they could get involved at Shadow Hills. At our first PTSA meeting 70 parents attended, our Back to School night saw record attendance, and our first trimester awards assembly was filled to capacity with parents/family members. GEAR UP/AVID updates are provided at each School Site Council and English Learner Advisory Committee (ELAC) meeting.

What GEAR UP trainings, tools and resources have been most helpful to your Leadership Team?

We were honored to be selected to present to new schools at the October 2008 GEAR-UP Technical Assistance Training. It provided our Leadership Team with validation that we were on the right track. The Educational Trust Awards have made a huge impact towards staff buy-in. The College: Making it Happen booklets are being utilized by our social studies teachers as well as our Academic Counselor. The facilitated meetings are especially helpful in fine tuning what we would like to accomplish. The School Self Assessment Rubric (SSAR) is a good tool to show us areas we need to work on in creating a college-going atmosphere at our school.

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Shadow Hills Leadership Team 2008

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