Through the journey of high school, some students are faced with barriers that could prevent them from graduating and moving on to pursue a career.
There could be attendance, discipline, academic or home problems. They could need help applying for financial aid, scholarships or college. They also could need tutoring in a class or a person to listen to them and guide them along the way.
At Brownstown Central High School, Kate Shoemaker and Terrye Davidson are now there to provide that extra support.
They are coaches of the iGrad program, which recently started at Brownstown since the school was one of four in the 10-county Indiana Department of Workforce Development Region 9 receiving Skill UP Indiana! grant funding.
“We’re going to be one of their biggest supporters, in the school system anyway,” said Shoemaker, a 2011 Brownstown Central graduate.
“I think it’s kind of like coaching a team. You have lots of different people, and the team becomes that family setting,” said Davidson, who was a counselor and coach at Brownstown for 40 years.
“One of the things that I really appreciate about this program is it gives the kids a connection to the school,” she said. “I hope we’re the connection that makes them want to get up and come every day. I think that’s our goal — to be that place that is safe. We don’t give grades. We just help.”
The iGrad program started in 2012 in Bartholomew County. It was a pilot program for the first three years, identifying at-risk students, focusing on increasing high school graduation rates and decreasing the number of dropouts.
Jennifer Steadman Ryan, assistant director of the iGrad program, said since 2012, Bartholomew County has seen a nearly 10 percent increase in the graduation rate, and the number of dropouts has gone from 110 to about 45. Now, the program there is starting to focus on college and career readiness.
In the fall of 2015, Laurie Dickerson was hired as director and Steadman Ryan came on as assistant director to set up a structure for iGrad and help it expand to Jackson and Jennings counties.
The Jackson County Education Coalition partnered with Brownstown Central Community School Corp., Ivy Tech Community College and others in the community in submitting the Skill UP Indiana! grant proposal.
The grant program was created to encourage development of sector-focused training and education programs for in-demand occupations at the regional level in order to teach the necessary skills and competencies as identified by local employers.
Brownstown received nearly $35,000 of the $52,000 it costs to start iGrad, and the education coalition funded the difference.
The school partnered with Ivy Tech in Columbus to employ the iGrad coaches.
Since earning a psychology degree from the University of Louisville in December, Shoemaker had worked for Ireland Home Based Services. Earlier this summer, she came across the iGrad job opening online and decided to apply.
“My last job, I worked with a lot of kids. I was their mentor, and I really liked that,” she said. “It was kids 4-years-old to 16, and I could relate with them better because I’m younger. … It was fitting for the kind of scenarios I could be in here. I thought that was perfect because in the future, I want to be an actual school counselor. I thought this would be a perfect first step for it.”
Davidson said she read about iGrad in the newspaper and thought her education background would suit the position.
“As a school counselor, I think that I always had a concern for that population of students who had the potential to graduate from high school and certainly be in a position to get postsecondary (education),” she said. “But sometimes, barriers crop up, and for whatever reason, the students don’t get over or around those barriers, and it gets in the way of them reaching their full potential.”
Davidson said one of her passions is for all kids to have the chance to be all that they can be.
“We see in Jackson County the need for a great workforce, and there are people who have the potential to be a great workforce, and schools don’t always have the manpower to attend to every single individual student,” she said. “I think that this program lends itself to create that opportunity for students.”
Guidance counselors Derrick Koch and Jami Stuckwisch recommended students for the iGrad program and encouraged them to visit with the coaches to learn more about it and see if it’s right for them.
Davidson said all 22 students who visited the iGrad classroom expressed interest in the program. They are sophomores, juniors and seniors, and the coaches will soon look to recruit freshmen and later start identifying eighth-graders who could benefit from the program.
Shoemaker is in the classroom four days a week, while Davidson is there two days. Students come in the classroom throughout the day as needed to receive assistance and support from the coaches.
The coaches provide these services:
Monitor progress and check grades
Provide time, computers and some assistance with credit recovery
Provide minimal homework help
Coordinate and communicate information with teachers, administrators and outside agencies
Assist with problem solving
Assist students with setting and reaching goals and helping them find motivation factors to achieve goals
Post college and scholarship information
Assist students in post-secondary goals and choices
Assist with FAFSA online application
Assist with post-secondary education funding
Assist with 21st Century Scholars deadlines
Each iGrad participant was given a binder that lays out their goals, and the coaches will monitor the progress they are making toward reaching the goals.
Students also may be paired with peers or adults for tutoring and mentoring. Davidson said a few businesses and industries already have expressed interest in being involved.
Right now, the coaches are focused on building relationships with the students to assess their needs. In Bartholomew County, Steadman Ryan said progress has been made with the students because of the relationships they have built with their coaches and teachers.
“At some of the other schools, students refer to it as their iGrad family because that room is that safe place where they can go, and they have that relationship with those coaches, and it’s a positive adult role model in their lives,” she said.
As the program progresses, Davidson said they will take recommendations of students from school staff members, parents and others in the community.
Program leaders also will be working with community partners for funding beyond this school year.
Jennings County High School is in the process of implementing iGrad after Ivy Tech in Columbus received a $74,724 Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education grant from the Indiana Department of Education.