If it wasn’t for the iGrad program at Brownstown Central High School, Spencer Wells said he may not have received his diploma this year.
As a sophomore, he struggled with a few classes and wound up not passing math.
One day, he was taken out of study hall to learn about iGrad, which was going to be starting at Brownstown his junior year in 2016-17. The program identifies at-risk students and focuses on increasing high school graduation rates and decreasing the number of dropouts.
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Wells said he and some other students were iffy about joining, but they soon found out what impact it made on them.
“It has probably been one of the most beneficial things I’ve ever taken in school,” said Wells, who graduated May 26.
With help from iGrad coach Kate Shoemaker and college and career coach Terrye Davidson, Wells was able to pass math and now plans to take general education classes through Ivy Tech Community College with hopes of landing a technology- or computer-related career.
“It’s a push that I definitely needed to be able to get through my classes because I was struggling with a lot of emotional and family stuff at the same time with school,” Wells said. “Without that extra push I got in iGrad, I honestly don’t know if I would have graduated … and I probably wouldn’t have even considered going to Ivy Tech had it not been for this class.”
Wells was one of eight Brownstown seniors who participated in iGrad and recently graduated with the Class of 2018. In the inaugural year of the program, five seniors graduated.
The iGrad program started in 2012 in Bartholomew County and was a pilot program for the first three years.
Jennifer Steadman Ryan, assistant director of the iGrad program, said since 2012, Bartholomew County has seen a nearly 10 percent increase in the graduation rate, and the number of dropouts has gone from 110 to about 45.
In the fall of 2015, Laurie Dickerson was hired as director and Steadman Ryan came on as assistant director to expand iGrad to Jackson and Jennings counties.
The Jackson County Education Coalition partnered with Brownstown Central Community School Corp., Ivy Tech Community College and others in the community in submitting a Skill UP Indiana! grant proposal.
In 2016, Brownstown was one of four schools in the 10-county Indiana Department of Workforce Development Region 9 receiving grant funding. It received nearly $35,000 of the $52,000 it costs to start iGrad, and the education coalition funded the difference.
The school partnered with Ivy Tech to employ Shoemaker and Davidson as the iGrad coaches. Shoemaker graduated from Brownstown in 2011, and Davidson was a counselor and coach at Brownstown for 40 years.
Guidance counselors Derrick Koch and Jami Stuckwisch recommended students for the program and encouraged them to visit with the coaches to learn more about it.
Each iGrad participant was given a binder that laid out their goals, and the coaches monitored the progress they made toward reaching the goals.
The iGrad program also is offered at Columbus North, Columbus East, Hauser and Jennings County high schools, but each one has a different structure.
“Kate and I put our heads together and decided how it might work best here,” Davidson said. “We said we want to see (students) every day. We want to get to know them, and that has worked very successfully for us.”
The program remained the same this school year, except Davidson became a college and career coach and was only in the room once a week. Shoemaker was there every school day.
With her past experience as a counselor, Davidson had the knowledge and expertise to help with college and career readiness.
“What’s really important is almost everybody needs to think of some kind of lifelong learning and some type of postsecondary advanced training,” she said. “That does not necessarily equate to a four-year college.”
Shoemaker helps students with study habits, quick reading and organizational skills. She also has the older students serve as tutors for the underclassmen.
Her goal is to help students graduate so they can pursue their postsecondary goals.
“If they don’t have the words of encouragement like we’ve been giving them the past two years, they would have thought, ‘Well, I can’t make it in college,'” Shoemaker said. “But whenever we explain to them how college works and Ivy Tech and how simple it is compared to that four-year degree, they are like, ‘Oh, I can do that, and it’s affordable.'”
They then have the same feelings as other seniors going to college.
“They never really connected with other seniors who have already had that support to go to college, and now, they are like, ‘I’m excited, but I’m nervous,’ and I’m like, ‘That’s the emotions you should be having as a senior,'” Shoemaker said.
Just because the school year ends or seniors graduate doesn’t mean the students lose connection with iGrad. Shoemaker said she checks up on them to see how they are doing.
There have been as many as 38 students in the program. Shoemaker said keeping it in that range allows her to give them one-on-one attention.
“It’s more of quality, not quantity,” she said.
Hunter Eads and Ethan Stout were involved with iGrad their final two years at Brownstown.
Eads said it worked better for him than study hall.
“As I started coming here more often, I realized that the teachers in general were more personal,” he said. “They know every single one of the kids individually, and they help you individually. They know if you are struggling in a certain class because they check your grades and stuff. They care more.”
He said the coaches helped him stay on track with homework.
“They would always hound me,” Eads said, smiling. “I was a procrastinator, and they helped me pass chemistry and kept on me to get my assignments turned in. I passed chemistry because of that.”
Stout said he wasn’t sure about iGrad at first, but his thoughts changed.
“My grades were pretty bad,” he said. “My grades aren’t straight A’s right now, but they’ve definitely gone up since I’ve been in here.”
Having someone to rely on for help made a difference, he said.
“I have people to talk to,” Stout said. “It’s like a family.”
Now, both have plans to go to Ivy Tech. Eads is going to take classes to earn an entry-level information technology certification, and Stout wants to become an entrepreneur.
Junior Nickolas Johnson also has been a part of iGrad for two years. While he said he is a good test-taker, his grades have suffered for not meeting the required Accelerated Reader points in a class.
The iGrad room, however, has helped him do better.
“I’ve got a quiet place to read, and if I don’t read, I always have these two to point me in the right direction,” he said of Shoemaker and Davidson.
This was the first year of iGrad for sophomore Ethan Shultz and freshmen Kirstie Rascoe and Charlie Ault.
Shultz said the program has changed his attitude about school.
“I was not really wanting to try last year, but this year, I actually want to do the best for myself,” he said. “They’ve made me gain my confidence back. It has helped me get ready for real life after high school.”
Rascoe said she had issues with getting her homework done, but iGrad helped her turn that around. She went from really low grades to making A’s and B’s.
This year, she was able to help others in the room with their homework.
“It definitely encourages me to help other kids,” she said. “I’ve always been a person who has wanted to help other people.”
Ault also said Accelerated Reader points were a struggle until he joined iGrad.
“They give you that extra little boost,” he said. “You get a lot more help than just the normal classes.”
Superintendent Greg Walker said iGrad has been a great addition to the high school. The Jackson County Education Coalition, Ivy Tech and the school board are invested in the program for 2018-19.
“It gives them a connection to the school,” he said. “You have people that check in on them, and a lot of students, they just need that extra level of support. Having somebody check up on them and know that somebody’s in their corner and would go to bat for them, I think that’s the key.”
Walker said he knew about some of the students’ struggles when he was the middle school principal, and he was glad to see them recently graduate.
“These are eight kids that wouldn’t be (graduating) if it wasn’t for this program,” he said. “It’s amazing. It makes my heart glow and puts a big smile on my face to see these kids do that because this is a big step for them.”
It was a proud moment for Shoemaker and Davidson, too.
“It’s a sense of accomplishment for them that we feel joyful about,” Davidson said. “We just feel like the kids here have all of the potential in the world. They just need some extra support and guiding that helps them to reach that potential. It’s all within them. … We don’t have any magic bullets or anything. We’re just taking care of kids.”
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iGrad volunteer application: bit.ly/iGradApp
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The iGrad coaches provide these services:
Monitor progress and check grades
Provide time, computers and some assistance with credit recovery
Provide minimal homework help
Coordinate and communicate information with teachers, administrators and outside agencies
Assist with problem solving
Assist students with setting and reaching goals and helping them find motivation factors to achieve goals
Post college and scholarship information
Assist students in postsecondary goals and choices
Assist with FAFSA online application
Assist with postsecondary education funding
Assist with 21st Century Scholars deadlines
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“We just feel like the kids here have all of the potential in the world. They just need some extra support and guiding that helps them to reach that potential. It’s all within them. … We don’t have any magic bullets or anything. We’re just taking care of kids.”
College and career coach Terrye Davidson on Brownstown Central High School’s iGrad program