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New Chestatee program helping students with disabilities, at-risk kids shows positive results
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Chestatee High ninth-grader Trevor Buffington works on his laptop after school during the school's Flight program. Chestatee High has begun tracking and offering tutoring and other after-school programs for groups of struggling ninth-graders in various fields of their studies.

A new program targeting 50 Chestatee High School students who have disabilities or are considered at-risk appeared to show some positive results in its first two months, according to the teacher overseeing the program.

Angela Shepheard, who leads the school’s Flight program, said Friday that year-end numbers show that 14 of 24 ninth-graders in the identified group who passed all seven of their classes were students who were regularly attending  program that ran March 9-May 17. Nearly two-thirds of the students who participated in the program were promoted to 10th grade.

“I’m really proud of these numbers,” said Shepheard, who added the program was getting results even though it didn’t begin until the last two months of the school year. “Some of these kids were so far behind when we started. I’m really excited about next year when we’ll be getting them in August. Over a year’s time, you would see greater results.”

The program offered an hour on Mondays and Wednesdays after school for students who were struggling to get extra help from teachers in different subject areas. Only 25 of the 50 students invited to the program attended regularly. Eight of the 25 students had some type of disability.

Shepheard said the plan is to track the 50 students until graduation.

“Our goal is to increase our graduation rate for students with and without disabilities, so we wanted to look at our struggling learners, those that need more assistance than what they can get from the 8-to-4 school day,” she said. “A 50 percent attendance rate initially, that’s a good start.”

The students are allowed to make up work and get one-on-one time with a teacher in the content area they were struggling in.

Chantelle Grace, a social studies teacher who works with the program, said the program has allowed the teachers “to connect with students better.”

“We get to see them for who they are, and I think that is the biggest thing,” she said. “Unless you have a good relationship with the students, you can’t move on very well.”

Grace was also looking ahead to the fall.

“I think we caught them a little late this time around,” she said. “I’m actually excited to see how one full year with them will impact it. For some of them, they had dug a hole too deep that was hard for us to work with, but now that they will be starting fresh next year, we can start looking at their grades immediately and say, ‘I noticed you didn’t turn this in’ and hold them more accountable.”  

Mark Tomcho, who teaches science, said Flight will continue to be tweaked to meet the needs of students.

“It’s a work in progress; we’re going to change as we go,” he said. “We’re getting some feedback from our students what did they like, what worked, what didn’t work and we’ll make those changes for next year and hopefully just continue to improve.”

Juan Castro, one of the students who participated in Flight, said he is taking school more seriously since starting the program.

“It has helped me a lot,” he said. “At home, I know I’m not going to do my work, so I come here and I actually do my work here. My grades have gotten better.”

East Hall High School is doing a similar project called Club 50. George Morgan, assistant principal, said East Hall is in the organizational stage and will start offering programs to students in the fall.

We have done a lot of things to prepare to start the program,” Morgan said. “We are always about helping our students. If we can put something together that can close the cracks in the educational foundation, where people slip through the cracks, that’s what we are going to try to do.”

Morgan said the program will target 50 of next year’s sophomores and track them for three years. Unlike Chestatee’s program, Morgan said much of the work with students in Club 50 will take place during the school day. He said the school’s motto “Every student, every chance, every day” will be a focus of the program.

Laura Lucas, assistant special education director for Hall County Schools, said the two programs are part of a state directive, Student Success: Imagine the Possibilities, to increase the graduation rate of students with disabilities and at-risk students.

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