Undeniably, the research is clear, it is imperative that students have a successful experience during their freshman year of high school. Studies have shown that when a student falls behind during the first year of high school, it often is too big of a hole to get out of. As a result, the student will struggle to get back on track to graduate and will be ill-prepared for either postsecondary schooling or to enter the workforce directly. Therefore, providing freshmen students the opportunity to be successful and to meet their individual needs is a focal point of many high schools. One of the most successful strategies to meet such needs at Valparaiso High School started about a decade ago with the formation of the Freshman Academy.
The Academy has allowed a core of four teachers to work together with a set number of students, usually around 55, and their families to establish a positive rapport between students, families, and the school. Additionally, research shows that when students can work with the same school professionals over an extended period of time even more benefit is provided to the student. This year, the Academy concept expanded and transformed into a two-year program where students will continue into their sophomore year with their same core teachers they had as freshmen students. This evolution has inspired teachers and students alike to Learn In New and Collaborative Settings, thus the change in name to LINCS.
There are indicators that can be monitored during a student’s freshman year that help predict if a student will have a successful high school experience. Schools know that when a student earns passing grades, does not have discipline issues, and participates in community activities, they are more likely to graduate with the skills needed to be college and career ready. At Valparaiso, the LINCS program provides several supports such as smaller class sizes, tutoring during the day, and a culture of high expectations. LINCS works with many partners including the AmeriCorps program offered through United Way which provides the tutoring services during the school day.
To aide in achieving the goals of LINCS, a highly successful incentive program was also implemented at Valparaiso High School. In partnership with Jostens, VHS recognizes each year the students from the LINCS program who earn high academic grades, have no discipline issues, and participate in at least two community service events during the school year. For example, many of this year’s LINCS students volunteered one Saturday to help with the ValPLAYso project. When students meet these criteria they are recognized with the presentation of their high school class ring during their sophomore year. At the recognition ceremony, not only does the student attend, but their families as well as their former teachers come celebrate their success. The ring also serves as a reminder to the student, and their family, of the dedication and determination they displayed to have a successful high school career, as well as those who helped them achieve it.
Reid Amones is Principal at Valparaiso High School.