'Ohana breakfasts' help ease transition to high school

2/29/2016 | TACOMA, Washington

School doesn’t start at Lincoln High School for another 30 minutes, but room 309 bustles. Students pour into the classroom, stopping to munch on muffins, oranges and granola bars.

Shouts of laughter, first-bumps and high-fives makes the room feel like a gathering of long-lost friends. “It’s so good to see you,” a teacher says as a student walks in. “How’s it going?”

​Lincoln High School students Isiah Daniels and Javon Peoples eat breakfast
during a monthly "Ohana breakfast" meant to support them during their transition 
to high school.
Once a month, students and teachers gather at Lincoln for an early morning breakfast. The teachers don’t wear Lincoln ID badges, though. They come from Giaudrone Middle School​, one of Lincoln’s feeder schools, to support their former students. 
“We come to help kids navigate through high school,” said Chris McCrummen, Giaudrone’s assistant principal. “We ask them if they need us to advocate for them and remind them how to advocate for themselves.”

The breakfasts, open to all former Giaudrone students, especially target freshmen. Nationally, more students fail ninth grade than another other grade, according to a 2012 report by the U.S. Department of Education. The report called ninth grade “a potential minefield” for many students due to “new emotions, new social situations and new intellectual challenges.” 

Once a student fails ninth grade, goals of graduating and attending college or entering a career become exponentially harder to achieve. Giaudrone staff wants to prevent that from happening to their former students. 

The middle school started the “Ohana breakfasts” last year (named ohana after the Hawaiian word for family and one of Giaudrone’s mottos). Middle school staff volunteers attend the monthly meals, which regularly attract 30 or more students. The success of the program inspired First Creek and Stewart middle schools to start monthly breakfasts at Lincoln this year as well. 

Lincoln staff welcome the visitors. “We’re happy to host the breakfasts here because we’re focused on relationship-and-community building,” said Susie Askew, one of Lincoln’s assistant principals. “The more supportive adults a student has in their life, the more research shows it keeps students focused and builds accountability.” 

One-on-one check-ins 
A significant part of the breakfasts involves teachers asking students to show their grades and talk about what steps they can take to improve. 

​Chris McCrummen, Deanne Chrichton and Chris Case prepare for a monthly 
"Ohana breakfast" where Giaudrone Middle School staff provide breakfast for their
former students now at Lincoln High School. 
At a recent breakfast, Giaudrone math teacher Trent Taylor huddled by a computer with Randy, one of his former students. They looked at Randy’s grades, including a list of all completed and incomplete assignments. 

“You’re getting an A in trigonometry,” Taylor said. “That’s something some people can’t even fathom! But this one other grade is significantly pulling your GPA down. Tell me right now—because I’m going to check in with you next time—what are some assignments you can complete and turn in to bring this up?”

Taylor and Randy talk together as other teachers work with students nearby. Taylor ends with a plug for getting involved with math extracurricular activities, suggesting a few clubs to check out. 

For Randy, a junior who started attending Ohana breakfasts last school year, the monthly check-ins help him stay accountable. “To be honest, I don’t check my grades on my own. But last year I had a really low grade in English first semester and I brought it up to a B after I turned in all my missing essays,” with encouragement from Giaudrone teachers, he said. 

Students haven’t stopped coming to the breakfasts because they’re asked to share grades, McCrummen said. “They don’t have to share, but they do.” 

At other breakfasts, Giaudrone staff pass out slips of paper and ask students to write things they want teachers to know, such as their biggest struggles in high school and biggest successes. Teachers share lessons from their ninth-grade year and spend time chatting with students about their lives. 

Giaudrone special education teacher Roselee Sauser said she receives calls after breakfasts from students asking for more advice and had a parent call to ask for assistance contacting her child’s high school teacher.

“I feel like we’re part of a community of people to support these students,” Sauser said. “The kids are so excited to see you and to share their successes with you.” 

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