Woodland High School’s Positive Academic Support System (PASS) connects struggling first-year high school students with dedicated staff members who help mentor and guide them to a successful freshman year.
Woodland High School introduced the PASS program in 2017 to help ninth graders who were at risk of failing one or more of their classes. “Research shows students who fail one or more classes in their first year of high school are significantly more likely to drop out before graduating,” explained Principal John Shoup. “Our PASS program helps students who need a little extra support getting used to the high school experience.”
Shoup and Assistant Principal Dan Uhlenkott developed a general concept for a program that could help students who appeared to struggle within the first few months at high school. Providing students with the support they need as early as possible may be key to their overall academic success. “Studies show that students who end their ninth year on-track by passing all of their courses are about 3.5 times more likely to graduate from high school than peers who fail one or more classes,” said Uhlenkott. “With the Core 24 requirements, students do not have much wiggle room to fail even a single class and still graduate, much less fail a core class.”
Shoup and Uhlenkott enlisted several staff members to become part of the PASS program. “Initially, we selected three staff members, Dana Preston, Cyndy Grayson, and Mary Ann Sturdivan, because of their love for students and, well, their parenting skills,” said Uhlenkott. “Many PASS students actually refer to their PASS mentors as ‘school moms’ who ensure the students have the push they need during each school day.”
“With four of my own children having graduated from Woodland High School, John thought I could be a ‘school mom,’” said Mary Ann Sturdivan, one of the founding PASS staff members. “I took that to mean keeping track of students, becoming a liaison with staff, motivating, and nagging whenever necessary; I’m already an ‘expert nag’ getting our seniors to meet their graduation requirements.”
Students in PASS may need additional support for a variety of reasons. “Often, poor performance in school is a symptom of other issues occurring in a student’s life,” said Uhlenkott. “Our PASS adults act as ‘school parents’ to help freshmen navigate academics, attendance, discipline, class changes, independent course curriculum; pretty much any aspect of high school.”
Students in PASS meet with the entire team as a group each week and then meet with their individual assigned PASS staff member throughout the week, as needed. “Some students need daily connections while others may only need a weekly check-in,” said Stacy Gould, the PASS program coordinator. “We do whatever our students need from us in order to empower them to be successful.”
Gould was hired as the program’s coordinator this year and additional staff members were added to manage an increasing number of students. “When teachers have multiple classes with dozens of students, it can be difficult to get a solid feel for what each individual student needs in order to be successful,” explained Gould. “The PASS team has the time to get in there, see students in their element, and intervene with whatever support is necessary.”
In order to support the program financially, Principal Shoup and Gould applied for and received a grant from InvestEd which provided $5,000 for PASS each year for the past two years. The funds received from InvestEd help pay for snacks for the students as well as other supplies for the program.
PASS team members provide students with homework help, encouragement, and training in ways to be a self-advocate, sometimes even serving as a liaison between a student and a teacher. The PASS team also maintains a food pantry where students can grab a quick meal or snack throughout the school day. School counselors provide mental health services and the district’s Family Community Resource Center (FCRC) helps students access any resources their families may need. “We help students connect with the right people and services so they don’t fall through the cracks,” said Gould. “Essentially, we are the go-to resource to help guide them in the right direction.”
PASS staff members also regularly communicate with students’ families, letting them know where students may be struggling, where they may need additional support, and, perhaps just as crucially, when the students succeed. PASS can also provide students with a campus connection to help them become more familiar and feel more comfortable with high school life. “High school can be a tough and scary place if you feel alone and lost,” said Gould. “With this program in place, we’re able to connect with students to offer academic support as well as be an adult who takes the time to listen to them.”
Ileen Kafferlin (junior, left) and Madison "Madi" Gosser (sophomore, right) credit the PASS team with helping them turn around failing grades and become successful in high school.
In the time since PASS was introduced, the results have been spectacular.
Madison “Madi” Gosser became a PASS student during her ninth-grade year in 2018, and sees the program as being instrumental for helping her earn a 3.2 Grade Point Average (GPA). “Having the support system from the entire team turned me around,” she remembers. “During my freshman year, I was more interested in the social aspects of high school, but once I got into PASS, they helped me focus on academics.”
The PASS team taught Madi the importance of asking for help and reassured her that teachers truly care about the success of their students. “I felt like the teachers would judge me if I asked for help and think I was stupid for not understanding the lessons,” she said. “Now, I know the teachers are here to answer any questions we might have so I have no problem asking for help when I need it.”
In addition to taking classes at the high school, Madi also takes courses at Cascadia Tech. “I feel like more students need to be involved with the curriculum offered at Cascadia,” she said. “If more students knew about it, they’d learn they have a lot more opportunities for their future.”
Through PASS, Madi now has a plan for her future. “The PASS program has impacted me in a big way and showed me that I’d like to have a career in business,” she explained. “After graduating, I’d like to start at a two-year college, earn my associate degree, and then work my way up through higher education, too.”
Like Madi, Ileen Kafferlin, a junior who now has a 3.7 GPA, was nervous when she first learned she was being assigned to the PASS program, but that quickly changed. “Having the support from both the PASS Team and my teachers really helped me,” she recalled. “I need that kind of push; I also needed a good teacher to help me with that extra push, and, for me, it was one of my math teachers.”
Math used to be Ileen’s weakest subject, but thanks to the extra support provided by the PASS team and her teachers, she’s developed a new appreciation for it. “I really enjoy Applied Math which I’m taking now,” she said. “Being able to work with the APEX software package to develop my math skills outside of the classroom last year was huge.”
When Ileen graduates, she plans to go to college for a degree in education. “I want to be a preschool teacher,” she said. “I really like young kids and I want to have the same impact for them that the PASS team has had for me.”
The connections formed between students and their “school moms” run deeper than high school. “Even after I graduate, I have every intent to keep texting and keeping in contact with the PASS team,” said Madi. “They aren’t just the people who got me through high school – they’ve been my support group for everything.”
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