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Learning Curve

Finding the Path for Dual Enrollment

Pathway up a grassy mountain in sunlight

By Kim Gibson

Parent Mentor, Ware County Schools

Editor’s Note:  As with much of the work we parent mentors do, the ideas originate with the struggles we face with our own children who receive special education services. This is one of those stories which started with a mentor and grew into the work of an entire district. That is our mission. 

In 2015, the SPED coordinator at WCHS and I started looking at the data for our students with disabilities SWD’s for graduation and dropout rates. What we found was almost half of our students receiving special education services were not graduating and had double the dropout rate of general education students. Very few students from WCHS with IEPs went to a post-secondary placement. There were no SPED students in dual enrollment even though we had a Technical College and a two-year community college within walking distance of our high school.

Ware County High School has a student population of 1500 students. Approximately 15% of our student population have been identified as having a disability and receiving special education services. Our graduation rate in 2013 for SWD’s was 48.8%. Our dropout rate in Ware County for SWD in 2013 was  5.1%. The graduation rate for general education students in Ware County in 2013 was 82.6% and the dropout rate was 2.2 

My son who was a senior the year before at WCHS, was going to Valdosta State University. He was the the only student with a disability that was planning on attending a four year college in his class. I knew what it took for us to prepare him for the SAT. We had to have the counselors apply for accommodations for him to take the SAT. There was no test prep offered at the high school for any student. I knew for my son to be successful he needed to prepare for the test. We researched SAT test prep and got help from Khan Academy, hired a tutor and took online practice tests. After all the preparation, my son was successful and achieved the score he needed to be accepted to VSU. This process was the beginning of Find Your Path.

Our students with disabilities at WCHS for the most part were clueless about their options after graduation that included postsecondary opportunities. A team was formed to work on improving the graduation rate as well as the post secondary outcomes. Our team for Find Your Path was Laurie Ponsell, High School SPED coordinator, Kelly Thrift, Transition Coordinator, Eryn Parson, Coastal Pines Technical College Dual Enrollment recruiter, David Butler, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor and myself.

We partnered with Coastal Pines Technical College after a meeting with their  high school student recruiter. CPTC was open to working with us in preparing students to take the entrance test for their college. At the time, it was the Compass test, now it is the Accuplacer test. We discussed providing tutoring and support for our students after school. We were able to provide transportation by utilizing the buses used for regular after school tutoring. We live in a rural county and transportation is always an issue. We arranged to talk to the principal and the SPED director about our plans. They were all on board but we had to clear it with several other folks at the school including counselors, assistant principals, after school teachers, transportation and the CTAE administrator. We met with everyone or emailed and got our approval to work on the Find Your Path initiative.

It was easy to convince folks that this was what was right for our students. Counselors were eager for the help, all others were supportive as long we understood that we would be responsible for this initiative.

We had 16 students in our group the first year. We looked at dropout predictors:  attendance, behavior referrals and grades. We questioned case managers about which student on their caseload had the potential to attend college.  We met with the students that were selected for Find Your Path and gave them information about what we were doing. I contacted parents and explained what we were doing. Most parents were excited for their student to participate. I sent home practice tests for parents to help their students and worked with them on self determination.  The majority of students were interested in taking the Compass, some were not. We set up a schedule for tutoring with a start date. The first tutoring sessions were for Math and the second sessions covered English/ Language Arts. We utilized the buses that were already being used for school wide tutoring after school. The transportation issue was critical to the success of the initiative. Many of our students rode the bus and it was important that we insure that our students had a way home after school. I would like to say that it went smoothly but there were a lot of hiccups in the beginning. Eventually we got it worked out and transportation was provided to our students.

 We had 5-6 students attend the tutoring sessions regularly. Students taking the Compass test were 12 seniors and 4 juniors. 15 students completed 1 or more sections of the Compass test. 4 of our students took the test all three times it was given at the high school. 12 students passed the Math portion and 8 passed the Algebra section. Only 6 students did not pass the reading portion of the test. We had 4 students apply and attend college. 3 of the 4 juniors that took the test were dual enrollment students their senior year.

As part of the Find Your Path initiative and in partnership with our Transition Alliance, our students also participated in a College Transition Fair. Ware County students along with the 7 other school districts in our area toured Coastal Pines Technical College. Students were given an opportunity to see different areas of the technical college such as Welding, Automotive, Medical (CNA, Surgical Tech, Radiology, Pharmacy Tech, Phlebotomy) Cosmetology and Electrical Lineman. Students also had breakout sessions on self determination and self advocacy.They were allowed to see what college life was all about and experience what it would be like to be a college student.

So many SWD do not get this exposure to Technical colleges and community colleges as most College Fairs are geared toward the 4 year colleges. This opportunity, of visiting CPTC, has inspired and motivated more students to work toward dual enrollment or post secondary schools after graduation.

In the 4 years we have had Find Your Path in place we have had approximately 85 students participate. We have had 15 students apply and attend college. We have had 9 students take dual enrollment classes while in high school. This year we have 22 students participating, 12 seniors and 10 juniors. We have 3 students enrolled in dual enrollment classes. Our graduation rate for students with disabilities at Ware County High School went from 58.5% in 2016 to 72.5% for 2018. While we have many initiatives in place to address graduation at Ware County High School, I believe that the data suggests that Find Your Path has had a significant role in our increase in graduation rate for SWD.