At Nashville’s Overton High School, 9th grade students spent a lot of time this school year planning for graduation—four years from now. Every freshman had to write down specific steps to reach the goal of graduating with the class in 2015. They also had to name 3 people who can help support them in the process, and sign a certificate as sort of an oath to stay on track.
Those steps are part of a unique program at Overton called “Commitment to Graduate,” or C2G. On the day that high school juniors in Tennessee were taking the ACT, and Overton seniors were allowed time for college-visitations—the freshmen spent a day reflecting on their graduation goals, participating in team-building activities, and signing a huge banner that says “Commitment to Graduate: Class of 2015.”
Ninth-grader D’Anthony Wilson says banner-signing and goal-writing can make a difference for some students.
“It could be a contract; you could call it that—(a contract) to commit to graduate,” says Wilson.
As Katie Harton signs her name to the banner, she points out that C2G makes it okay for students who are easily influenced by peer pressure.
“It’s high school, so everybody does like what everybody else is doing. Since everybody… signed it, I think it helps,” says Harton.
C2G does rely a bit on peer influence and gimmicks; the students also receive green arm bracelets that say “Commitment to Graduate” and t-shirts printed with Class of 2015. But the program is more complex than it seems, according to the Freshman Academy Principal.
“The freshman year really is the most important year for kids,” says Dr. Jill Pittman, Freshman Academy Principal. “What we know is if they decide that they’re not going to graduate, they pretty much have decided that by the time they’re in 9th grade.”
“The commitment is to evaluate their own progress and to be responsible for their own success. So we did that through looking at student data.”
Using statistics provided by the Data Warehouse of Metro Nashville Public Schools, students study spreadsheets reflecting their specific numbers – attendance record, disciplinary actions, grades and test scores.
“They’re not always grounded in reality, so this serves as a great reality-check for kids,” says Pittman. “When you talk to kids and say ‘What did you learn today about yourself that you didn’t know before?’ Just to have kids say ‘Wow, I’ve been tardy a lot for school this year.’ Or to say ‘I thought I wanted to go to medical school, but when I look at my grades I realize they aren’t that strong– so I have a lot of work to do.’ Or for kids to say ‘I think I’ve got it going on—I’m in good shape!’ is really reaffirming. “
Pittman says C2G is not all self-centered for the freshmen. During group sessions, students are encouraged to map out strategies and collaborate on their individual goals toward graduations, as well as how they can support each other.
“There’s a lot of power in kids trusting each other enough to say ‘Here’s what I’m doing and I can help you along the way.’
“I have faith in myself that I’ll be able to graduate. But for others who don’t have so much faith in themselves, I can help them,” says Wilson. “We’re trying to start a new trend I guess, and we’re going to start helping other students so they can become successful because we’re going to get as many people to do it as possible.”
Overton school officials say the current school graduation rate is a bit more than 77%- higher than the state average, but not where they’d like it to be. And while C2G has much symbolism and meaning, Pittman admits it must be constant and repetitive—for the next 3 years.
“If we were to get 90% of these kids—so 9 out of 10—to follow through on their commitment and do it in 4 years, then we would feel like that was a good step in the right direction.”
They’ll have a very visible reminder: the huge banner with all their signatures will be hung in the lobby of the school.
“And there it shall hang until these kids graduate!” says Pittman.