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Packer Plus: What I Need Wednesday

At the start of the 2021-22 school year, South St. Paul Secondary staff decided they needed to think outside the box to help students academically. The past way of intervening when a student began to fall behind wasn’t working. Add in more than a year of learning model shifts, the amount of students failing one class or more was beginning to grow. SSP Secondary Staff knew something had to change.

The Old Way of Thinking Wasn’t Working

“When a student is failing one or more classes, it threatens their graduation status,” says High School Principal Chuck Ochocki, “Unfortunately, there was no intervention structure that helped students as soon as they started to fall behind.” He went on to say, if a student failed a class in the fall, many times they had to wait until the following summer to take classes and make up the credit. If a student did try to make it up before summer, there was the question of time. Opportunities were available to make up credit during the day or after school, but it was all dependent on the student’s and staff schedules. That would bring in the questions, if after school was used by students to catch up, when would teachers collaborate and work together to improve student learning? All of these things were beginning to add up, and with no real structure in place the results were “mixed at best,'' according to Ochocki.

“The other thing that we wanted to change was the incentives for students to receive good grades,” Ochocki says, “There are very few immediate rewards for students and sometimes that can be a large driving factor for a student to want to do well.” There are annual incentives such as the National Honors Society and the Honors Breakfast; there is also the promise of graduation at the end of your senior year. He says, “As a high school student, sometimes those rewards can be hard to focus on in the moment, when you’re feeling frustrated in a particular subject or class.”

In the summer of 2021, the High School team went to work on developing a plan that would check these boxes:

  • It will incentivize students to get good grades.
  • It will help struggling learners in a timely fashion.
  • It will allow students to have input into what they need to be successful.
  • It creates meaningful time for staff to collaborate and meet so they can continue to improve our student experience.

That’s when they came up with Packer Plus: “What I Need” Wednesday.

What I Need Wednesday

On What I Need Wednesday (WIN), students with a C- or less, in any class, will need to attend school. It is not a day off for students who have a C or higher in their classes. Instead, it gives them the incentive of choosing whether they want to complete their work at home or in school. Additionally, school begins about two hours later on WIN Wednesdays. This extra time in the morning is used for staff to meet in teams, collaborate, and work on BARR strategies to help students who are falling behind. The later start still allows all students to be bussed if needed and receive both breakfast and lunch at school.

Successful Results

Ochocki says they began the year with three goals in mind:

  • Less student failures- working towards zero failing grades
  • Create meaning time for teachers to connect and focus on BARR
  • Focus on the whole student and what they need emotionally and academically

What he says he didn’t expect was the culture shift they have begun to create. Students are beginning to think of a C- as the new F. Ochocki says, “I had a student say, ‘look I’m even failing physics now’ and when I walked by and looked over his shoulder I said, ‘hey you have a C-’ and he responded, “Might as well be an F.” He says one of the biggest trends he has noticed is the change in student attitude, “We saw a decreasing number of kids that HAD to come in throughout the trimester, but we also saw attendance go up because these were kids that said, ‘I continue to need additional support to keep my grades up.’”

Statistics show Trimester 1 of WIN Wednesday has been successful:

  • The number of failing grades dropped by 50% from week one of WIN Wednesday to the last week of the semester.
  • The number of students who needed to come to school decreased by 26%.
  • The number of students who failed one more class in the first trimester of the year is lower than pre-pandemic numbers.
    • Trimester 1, 2019: 26% of students failed one or more class
    • Trimester 1, 2020: 47% of students failed one or more class
    • Trimester 1, 2021 (WIN Wednesdays): 22% of students failed one or more class

Students and families agree. Nate, a sophomore at SSP, says he likes the program because it gives him a chance to catch his breath and make sure his school work is on track. He says, “When I come into school, teachers are asking if I need help because they want us to be successful. There is a real incentive to do well at school." SSP Junior, Aalyah, says, “"I really like Packer Plus: What I Need Wednesday because you can focus with the teachers when you come into school, get direct help, and not get behind in your work. I hope WIN Wednesday never goes away!"

Ochocki also received emails from parents who say at first they were skeptical, but after seeing the impact it has made they support it continuing. One parent wrote, “Wednesdays have not been “days off” for her but rather time she knows she will be able to do some extra studying, go in and get help in a class, take a quiz or test that was missed [due to COVID]. It also provides her with time to take care of her mental health by just slowing down for a day and having TIME for herself.” This parent goes on to say, “We ask so much of kids and this is one way to tell them that we SEE them! I hope it stays in future years because it really has provided my daughter with so many life skills, in particular: time management and responsibility. It makes me so happy to see her and other students be successful.” Another parent says, “ I will even admit to being personally skeptical going into this and had some concerns about this only having a benefit to a limited demographic of students. My position was misguided and probably based on the bias of looking at this through the perspective of my own children. I am so glad this has worked so well for all of our students across the district.”

What’s Next?

With the success of the first WIN Wednesday Trimester, Principal Ochocki says the program will continue. Feedback was gathered from students, teachers, and families and that has helped the administration make minor changes. One change implemented in Trimester two came from the students. In the original plan, students with a C- or less in any class were required to attend school the whole day. What has changed is that Juniors and Seniors will now only be required to come for the class they need support in. Freshman and Sophomores will continue to attend school the entire school day.

For next year, WIN Wednesdays will start at the beginning of the Trimester, this past year it wasn’t until 3-4 weeks into the Trimester. “There were a lot of students that needed to come in the first week of Packer Plus that could have been avoided if they set good habits at the beginning,” says Ochocki, “The decision hasn’t been made to when it would start next year, but we will be discussing it.”

Feedback from families and students has been positive. School board member John Raasch shared the positive impact it has had on his household. John says, “It’s teaching kids, even the ones doing well, time management. High school is a lot of supervised work and that is not what life after high school looks like. Giving students a taste of that early on, while they are still being supervised in the safety net of parents and teachers, will benefit all of our kids.”

Principal Ochocki says the school has been receiving emails and calls from districts not only around Minnesota, but also across the country. “We are getting them weekly about this program,” says Ochocki, “There are schools across the country that have asked us what we did and how we did it. Now that we have the data to back it up and are beginning to share it, people are asking more questions.” 

WIN Wednesdays will continue to shift and evolve as more feedback and statistics are gathered. 

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