Katie Ward (MEd ‘11) believes in the power of connecting with students. For Ward and her students at Sequim High School’s Hope Academy, building trust and practicing emotional honesty is the foundation for creating deeper relationships and for giving young people who’ve struggled in traditional classrooms an opportunity to find their path through high school.
At Hope Academy, an alternative program for ninth through 11th-graders at Sequim High School, students work in a mixed-grade class for one or more periods each day.
“For ninth graders, we teach a combination of social skills and study skills. We help them do things like check for missing assignments, work on communication skills, and develop good study habits. For the 10th and 11th-graders, the work is mostly focused on credit recovery.”
One way that Hope differs from the traditional classroom is that the students work online at their own pace. Ward said the format has proven to be beneficial for all students, especially those with attention issues. As a result of the flexible learning environment, many students have succeeded in recovering credits and graduating from high school.
Another unique aspect of the program is the low student-to-teacher ratio. Unlike the traditional classroom, Hope Academy has two teachers available at all times. The idea is that one teacher can support a student who is facing a personal crisis or having a behavioral issue while the other teacher can continue with academic instruction with the class.
“If a student comes into class angry because of something rude that a peer posted online, I can take that student aside and help them to calm down. Meanwhile, the other teacher can continue supporting the students academically. I can take the time to get the student back on track. In a traditional classroom, there is no time to spend on this process.”
Additionally, Ward said that the classroom model serves to foster relationships. The students at Hope Academy trust their teachers and come to view them as reliable adults who have a consistent presence in their lives. In traditional classrooms, where the student-to-teacher ratio is often one teacher to 30 or more students, it can difficult for teachers to form a strong bond with all of their students.
At Hope Academy, there is a major emphasis on reflection both for the individual and for the group. Once an upset student calms down, they are led through a standard reflection process. They get an opportunity to discuss what happened, what set them off and what they can do differently next time.
“As a result, the students are equipped with those reflection skills when the issue comes up again,” Ward said. “By realizing the impact of their actions, both on themselves and on their peers, it creates a sense of personal responsibility in the student. Our students start develop a sense of honesty about their behavior and take ownership of their actions.”
Ward noted that the University of Washington’s Special Education High Incidence program appealed to her because she wanted to focus the various ways people learn and process information. At Hope Academy, she’s found a space where she can practice an individualized approach to education.
“I applaud the things that all teachers do everyday to form better personal connections with their students. That is one factor that can to make a difference during a student’s career at school. One way to develop connections with students is to ask about their hobbies. A lot of teachers already do this and it is really helpful.”
Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications