In the fall of 2014, educators from more than 300 Blue Ribbon schools from around the nation met in the District of Columbia to talk about the hard work that led to their gains and national awards. We sat down to ask some of these educators about what other schools could learn from them.
Early College High School on the campus of Brookhaven College in Farmers Branch, Texas, has 315 students in grades 9–12. Eighty-five percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, and 65 percent are English learners or had previously learned English in school.
The school is the highest performing high school in the district, and 100 percent of its seniors graduated in 2012. Sixty-nine of the school’s 89 graduates had associate degrees by the time they graduated, and 90 percent of them enrolled in a four-year college.
The school receives funding from Title I, which it used for Saturday school to provide extra support for students. To hear more from Michael Arreola about Early College High School’s philosophy and how the school uses Federal Title I funds watch this video.
Q. How do you promote high performance?
Michael Arreola, principal: Many of our students will be the first in their families to go to college, so we have to eliminate mental obstacles. We have student advisories, and in them we focus on growth and teaching students grit, perseverance and resiliency. We teach them the behavioral science behind the mindset we want to instill. We teach them that their future is not determined by IQ or by what people say you are.
In our professional learning communities (PLCs) for teachers, we don’t just discuss strategies but go into the science and the research behind the strategies.
We have high expectations for students and use innovative strategies such as project-based learning and peer mentoring by current college students. We encourage our students to be the very best they can be, and the staff provides a lot of emotional support.
We don’t focus on what’s missing, the TBUs—true but useless. Since not all of our students’ parents went to college we help them learn how to encourage their students to adopt habits that will lead to success in school and college.
With the help of parents, our school is the light that will lead our students to success.
Q. What other strategies do you use?
Arreola: Of course, we focus on academics and the rigorous things students need to do to be successful. All ninth graders are placed in all pre-Advanced
Placement core courses as well as in dual-credit elective courses, and all of our high school courses are designed to have our students completely college ready, according to the Texas Success Initiative standards, by the end of their ninth grade year.
We also celebrate successes. Every Thursday, we have a bell-ringing ceremony. Students who have been accepted to college parade through the hallways ringing a bell to be celebrated by students and staff, and we post acceptance letters on the bulletin board. Younger students strive to be part of this ceremony. We also have a senior walk ceremony, during which we recognize students who have earned scholarships and associate degrees.
We are constantly telling students that what they work for, they can get. We are trying to change family trees—even if the seed we planted won’t grow until the next generation. We are growing citizens. Our valedictorian in 2014 came to the United States in sixth grade as an English learner. He is now going to Harvard and wants to go home to Mexico after college to create opportunities for people there through government and education.
You can learn much more about Early College High School’s efforts and success here.