Academic failure by students can effectively limit the attainment of their academic and career goals. As a school counseling program focused on helping our students to achieve high school graduation and college acceptance, seeing our students fail academically was not acceptable for us. A study published by the University of Chicago in 2014 revealed that students who fail even one or two classes in the 9th grade are less likely to graduate from high school, much less enroll in college. The report goes on to report that 9th grade performance is a better predictor of high school graduation than either 8th grade test scores or background characteristics (gender, economic status, or race).
We knew our students were capable of academic success based on their 8th grade report cards. Faced with this data, we elected to create an 8-session small group intervention for our own students which we chose to name Hui Manaʻoʻiʻo. We surveyed the first semester report cards of our grade 9 and 10 students to identify those who we felt were at risk of academic failure, hoping to be able to intervene early on in their high school careers. Students who received GPAs of less than 2.0, or who had GPAs greater than 2.0 but received multiple D/F grades were identified. These students were invited to participate in Hui Manaʻoʻiʻo where they engaged in activities to build their self-efficacy and motivation, in order to close their achievement gap. The counselors selected to deliver this group were our grade 9 and 10 counselors as they had pre-existing relationships with the identified students which we felt would increase our students’ comfort level during their participation in this group.
Activities for Hui Manaʻoʻiʻo concentrated on developing those character traits in our students which we felt would translate to better school performance. Our curriculum focused on building their self-efficacy, their ability to work both independently and in groups, and also their understanding of how the choices they make affect their academic success.
With regard to gathering data, students completed a pre- and post-assessment via the ACT Engage, which is a tool used to measure motivation, self-regulation, and social engagement. Students also completed reflection activities at the end of each group session providing us with qualitative data, and parents were asked to complete a perception survey at the conclusion of the group. In addition, we compared students’ second semester grades to their first semester grades, hoping to see improvement.
The results were very positive. Students’ ACT Engage scores indicated an increase in positive attributes for our students (see attached ACT Engage reports), and parents also reported that their students were completing more of their assignments on time and were asking for help more often. Student reflections also showed positive growth in self-efficacy. Twelve of our 18 students (67%) reported higher GPAs on their second semester report cards, and the average GPA of our small group went from 1.844 in the first semester to 2.008 in the second semester.
These promising results have led us to several action steps we will be undertaking in the coming year. First, counselors will be meeting with individual students to follow up with them to ensure they remain on an upward trajectory academically. We will also offer this small group activity to next year’s 9th and 10th grade students meeting our criteria, and will be implementing a new small group activity for students who participated in Hui Manaʻoʻiʻo this past year wherein those students receive continued counseling services and also serve as role model/mentors to the incoming group of students selected for Hui Manaʻoʻiʻo.
We learned a few lessons along the way during this pilot. Some of the classroom activities we chose to do took a lot more time than we expected, and students were unable to complete them in the time permitted. We will be modifying those lessons for the coming year. We also realized that having additional staff available to assist with logistical concerns would allow our counselors more time to work with students and will be increasing our staffing in the coming year so that our delivery may be stronger. It is apparent, however, that this type of intervention is not only necessary for the continued academic success of some of our students, but is also well-received.