MERCED -- "We're making it extremely difficult for students to fail on our campus."
These are the words of Constantino Aguilar, principal of Golden Valley High School, explaining the newly launched intervention program.
The goal, according to Aguilar, is to eliminate class failures, raise students' grades and engage students more fully in campus activities.
The program largely focuses on the school's 625 freshmen. By monitoring their progress during five-week grading cycles, the staff can respond to needs quicker than before.
One of the key intervention components is the involvement of high-achieving upperclassmen as mentors.
"We want to make sure every one of our freshmen connect with something or someone on campus," Aguilar said. "We are doing our best to successfully acclimate all freshmen and make their learning relevant. Mentors are the catalyst for academic intervention."
Golden Valley is operating with a revised class schedule.
Students who are failing classes are put in subject-specific tutorial classes; students whose grade-point averages range between 2.0 and 2.9 are assigned to study hall; and students with a GPA above 3.0 are eligible for an extended lunch period, including enrichment activities.
'Teachers are happier'
Christy Lobao, Golden Valley's associate principal in charge of guidance, said the intervention program is working.
"I think it's wonderful," Lobao said. "The kids are getting the help they need, and teachers are happier as well. The mentors have been amazing; sometimes kids relate better to other kids. It's not just academics. The mentors have been motivating students, telling them, 'You can do this thing.' "
Aguilar said that in the past, study halls have been offered before and after school, but students didn't show up. Now that it's been made part of the school day, he expects grades to improve, because 80 percent of those who failed weren't doing their homework.
All freshmen must attend a 30-minute advisory class each day. It focuses on socialization skills, team building and a program called Advancement via Individual Determination. AVID includes college-preparatory practices such as developing organizational skills.
"Intervention is a student support system," Aguilar said. "It's a place where we meet the needs of everyone and build an incentive to do better. If they succeed as freshmen, they are more likely not to drop out, fail classes or fall through the cracks. We want to catch students before they start failing."
Lee Shaw is the freshman intervention coordinator. He said Mondays and Thursdays are activity days led by mentors. Tuesdays and Fridays are study hall days, when students receive help on schoolwork from the mentors.
"We believe we can dramatically impact the school culture by focusing on the freshmen," Shaw said. "By impacting the culture of the school, we can impact the culture of the whole community. We want all students to feel strongly supported academically and socially."
Shaw said the goal is to help them have a more successful four years, preparing them to be college and career-ready.
Rewards for mentors
Aguilar explained that freshmen are taken around campus to learn about electives such as welding, culinary arts, drama, theater and music. Many students are unaware that these course options exist before the tours.
About 285 high-achieving juniors and seniors have been identified as mentor candidates.
Besides the satisfaction they get from having an effect on fellow students' lives, they earn extended-lunch periods, off-campus lunch privileges and access to a game room where pingpong, foosball, board games and air hockey are offered.
Jazzy Chavez, a junior, is a mentor in Brianna Pivirotto's class.
"I decided to be a mentor because I wanted to help my peers at Golden Valley," Jazzy said. "It is very fun and rewarding to be a mentor. I would recommend it for other students to be a mentor. Not only do I get community service hours, but I get the great feeling of helping others."
Rami Rashed, a senior, is a mentor in Keith Hunter's class.
"I am a mentor because I want to help give back to the school and help our new students," he said. "It is a new experience, and I definitely recommend other students to mentor. The perks include off-campus lunch once a week, and it looks good for college applications."
The intervention may be working, but setting it up wasn't easy.
"It's very complicated," Aguilar said. "It's a logistical nightmare to run. But we have really talented people helping out with it. The message to upperclassmen is you need to lead by example, and many are doing that."
Laura Diele, mentor coordinator, said the mentors are a key component of the intervention program.
"All mentors were trained via a two-day training model before school started so that they were ready to go the first day," Diele said. "Both teachers and mentors have reported being very pleased with the mentorship model. It seems to be a win-win situation for the entire school and utilizes our best resources: the students."
Aguilar said that he is starting to see signs that the intervention is working, and there is more of a college-going atmosphere on campus.
"It's just a positive climate among students," he said.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.