Six Chicago High Schools Share Approaches to Freshman Success at the National Freshman Success Institute (NFSI)

“Being a part of this community has allowed me to candidly share and exchange ideas and motivated me to be a better education professional that can impact student success.”
This October, participants of the 2022–23 National Freshman Success Institute (NFSI) reconvened, and, over the span of two days, they delved deeper into Freshman Success work by visiting six Chicago high schools within the Network for College Success (NCS) Partner School Network.
During these visits, they engaged in activities such as classroom visits, school team meetings, and panel discussions. The goal for participants was to experience six different approaches to freshman success work within real-world contexts. Afterward, NFSI participants reflected, made observations in tandem with the Freshman Success Framework, and considered implications regarding how to continue to serve the students in their respective school communities effectively.
Here are the learnings that were shared at each of the six partner schools:
  • Richard T. Crane Medical Prep demonstrated how they intentionally develop students’ executive functioning skills through consistent classroom routines and structures across all classes.
  • Sarah E. Goode STEM engaged NFSI participants in a mock grade-level meeting where they analyzed student voice data from focus groups. Participants also learned how the school prioritizes student voice and partnership to achieve record student achievement across all grade levels.
  • Hyde Park Academy showed the impact that testing new practices and teacher collaboration on a specific strategy can have on classroom instruction while also observing practical collaborative group work in action within every 9th-grade classroom.
  • Kelly College Prep displayed the importance and process of shifting adult mindsets to create cohesive, equitable grading policies across the 9th grade. An improved Freshman On-Track rate, coupled with student and teacher panels at the visit, exemplified how transparent, growth-based grading practices increase students’ confidence, motivation, and academic achievement.
  • North-Grand High School modeled what it looks like to provide a supportive transition for the entire year via a Freshman Seminar course led by teachers who boldly advocate for students across all classes. The school also displayed how adults build trust with students using the Developmental Relationships framework.
  • George Washington High School exhibited its Freshman Café, which consists of 1:1 action-oriented goal-setting conversations with rotating adults in the building, ensuring that all adults take ownership of student success. Through this process, they put students in the “driver’s seat,” providing them agency in their learning journeys.
Each academic year, NCS collaborates with high schools within the Partner School Network to provide cross-school professional learning and job-embedded coaching aligned with four focus areas. We celebrate our partner schools and the lessons they shared with this year’s NFSI participants to support the 9th-grade transition.
NCS professional learning experiences consistently push participants to make clear plans to apply what they’ve learned to their own context. When prompted with what they would bring back to their respective school communities as a result of the two-day experience, NFSI participants highlighted three critical themes.

Establish Norms and Create the Conditions for Student Success

  • “We need to disrupt the structures that no longer serve us.”
  • “It should be more about teacher action than what students are doing”
  • “We’re all at different levels of implementation of Freshman Success work, and it’s ok!”

Collaboration Between Teachers and Leadership Strengthens 9th-Grade Success Efforts

  • “Empowering teachers to lead is vital. Sharing strategies and having a shared language is very important.”
  • “The importance of giving teachers time and space to buy in.”
  • “Solid and consistent leadership has a significant impact on the work. Administrators must trust the teachers in their work, and teachers also must trust administrators in their roles.”

Create a Culture that Listens to Student Voice and Amplifies Student Assets

  • “Student relationship building is key to engagement and discourse. Don’t just tell them to talk; create the atmosphere.”
  • “Asset-based mindsets of adults are vital to shifting practices in the building for students’ success.”
  • “Structures can help students to understand the importance of 9th grade. Students feel more confident when they feel seen and heard in their coursework.”
Participants will reconvene in February to conclude the seven-day NFSI experience. Be sure to check out what participants learned during the first three days of the Institute here!

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