Pikes Peak Online School (PPOS) is a K12-powered school that opened in Colorado in 2015 for “at-risk” students. A quick internet check tells us that an at-risk student is generally defined as “a student who is likely to fail at school. In this context, school failure is typically seen as dropping out of school before high school graduation.” Most of us have at-risk students in our classes, and we know there are many factors that contribute to a student being at-risk.
At PPOS, we believe that each student has promise, so to avoid the pejorative “at-risk” label, the PPOS faculty agreed to refer to our students as “at-promise.” We know that labels affect our perception and that our words shape our thinking. Take one of my students, Nic, for example. Nic certainly seemed to fit the mold of an at-risk student.
Nic has been my student at PPOS for the past two years. Nic does not attend Class Connect sessions and is difficult to reach by phone or email.
I first met Nic during his junior year when he came on my earth science field trip. Meeting Nic face-to-face, I was struck by his intelligence and aptitude for science. Nic was very quiet, but he also struck me as perceptive. As I got to know Nic better, I came to appreciate his insightful written responses on his earth science tests.
This year – Nic’s senior year – I again had Nic in science. Nic failed biology credit recovery first semester; he needed to pass biology credit recovery second semester in order to have the credits necessary to graduate. With little time remaining, I checked on Nic’s progress in his other classes and realized that he was passing all his classes EXCEPT my biology credit recovery course.
Fortunately, I had seen Nic’s potential before. After contacting Nic and his learning coach, we created a work plan to complete biology credit recovery. Nic worked non-stop until he passed this final class. Nic graduated from the Pikes Peak Online School in early June. After the graduation ceremony, Nic thanked me for believing in him and creating the opportunity for him to succeed.
Labeling our students influences the way we think of them. Nic turned out to be an at-promise student despite appearing to be at-risk. If we can think of our at-risk students as at-promise, we will be better prepared to help them.