Failing Oakmont students have a safety net

Guided Assistance Program puts ‘name to statistic’
By: Sena Christian, Staff Reporter
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By the numbers …

Oakmont High School’s Guided Assistance Program 2011-12

58 of 403 sophomores earned below a 2.0 GPA (now 1.0 GPA required for enrollment)

34 percent of GAP students are socio-economically disadvantaged

136 students served in the program’s first year

Out of the first group of 33 students served, number of tardies dropped by one-third, number of classes cut dropped in half, number of disciplinary incidents dropped, average GPA rose

Source: Marlon Morgan

For students failing in school, turning around a GPA lower than a 1.0 can feel insurmountable.

So they give up, or maybe get lost in the system and become another drop-out statistic — when what they really need is additional support, said Oakmont High School Intervention Counselor Marlon Morgan, who launched the Guided Assistance Program on campus in fall 2011 (see sidebar).

Morgan, who holds degrees in counseling and psychology, typically spends time helping the 550 students in his caseload with schedule changes and college admissions.

But in the five years he’s been on campus, he felt he didn’t have enough time to really address students’ low grades and non-academic challenges they face because he was bogged down with administrative work. He wanted to make more of a difference.

Under the program, teachers identify at-risk students with a 1.0 GPA or below, who are then referred to an Intervention Response Team. Once in the program, students check in with Morgan weekly and turn in a grade slip filled out by teachers with their current grade, assignments they missed and opportunities for extra credit.

“So we’re developing a mentorship and relationship with the students who may not have that or even want to talk to their teachers,” Morgan said. “(The grade form) is the primary tool to check in with students and it puts names to statistics that are failing and we get to know them.”

Junior Stephanie Gastelum joined the program this fall. She is an English Learner student, and as such can have a 2.0 GPA or below to be in the GAP program.

“It’s really helped me with my grades,” Gastelum said. “I wasn’t checking my grades often. Now I have really good grades.”

She’s getting mostly B’s and feels more comfortable asking teachers questions if she doesn’t understand an assignment.

The program usually serves about 65 students at any given time and 25 of the current students are English Learners. Kim Wolfe works as Oakmont’s learning support specialist and was hired this year with district EL funds to work four hours a day.

Wolfe, a licensed counselor, builds bridges between parents who don’t speak English and the school system. She also encourages bilingual students to feel comfortable approaching adults.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to go up to a teacher,” Wolfe said.

Junior Meiko Valencia joined GAP when he was failing all his classes. One reason: He never did his homework.

“(Morgan) is really helpful and so is Molly a lot,” he said. “They taught me how to get focused and stay on task. I think more kids should look into doing this because it will really help them.”

Molly Mackin is a graduate student at California State University, Sacramento. She is one of three interns from CSUS and National University who spend about 12 hours each week working with Oakmont students.

In addition to assisting with schoolwork, the interns talk to students about decision making, depression and issues going on at home.

“A lot of them just don’t have someone to talk to,” Mackin said. “That’s a big part of the program.”

Each week, students rate how things are going with their family, friends and school and can speak with an intern or Peer Helper as needed. Peer Helpers are upperclassmen trained in peer conflict and leadership. This is called solution-focused counseling.

Senior Mary Fries stops by Morgan’s classroom every once in awhile to meet with an intern or counselor.

“It’s been really good to talk about things and issues going on at home,” Fries said. “It’s helped me open more and be open to talking to people. It helps when someone understands what you’re going through.”