Hemet students head back to school

Tahquitz High School hosts for HUSD Back to School Night

Photos by Corey Evan/The Valley Chronicle
AVID coordinator Kacy Simpson outlines the AVID program for 12th graders and their parents.

■ By Corey Evan / Reporter

For some students, back to school night can feel like a major drag. But for all students, and their families, it is potentially beneficial. The Valley Chronicle got to learn about Hemet Unified School District’s back to school night on Monday, Aug. 27 by visiting Tahquitz High School for the evening.
Approximately 300 families were present at Tahquitz to meet with teachers, exchange information and get a first glimpse of how their students are doing.
Principal Eric Dahlstrom understands some students might think this event is redundant, but he says it’s as big a deal as the district makes it: “I would say that we still want to keep that ‘chain’ tight on our kids. It’s important for parents to understand that plan of becoming (college ready), and getting to graduation. Their influence over their kids is still as extremely important as it was back in kindergarten.”
There, parents of ninth graders got to learn how Tahquitz tries to help freshmen get off to the right start through the BARR (Building Assets, Reducing Risks) program. Having previously been tested using a control group of freshmen and seeing how dramatically it reduced course failure rates and increased achievement through communication and use of live progress data, every freshman at HUSD comprehensive high schools is now enrolled in the BARR program.
Dahlstrom outlined the overall mission of the BARR program: “What it does is put a cocoon around freshmen who come in. Typically freshmen will typically decide to drop out in that first year. What BARR does is it gives them… that little cushion so they’re not failing classes, they’re getting the support they need. They’re getting mental health services if they need that.”
BARR Coordinator Kelly Duggins explained to parents how building relationships between student and teacher is at the core of BARR: “The main part and soul of our program is it revolves around relationships. Your student will have an english, a math and a science teacher, and those three teachers are a team. And they’re your student’s BARR teachers.”
BARR Coordinator Jessica Oakes summed up just how much time and effort has gone into the development of BARR: “It isn’t something where someone just thought up a couple things we can do to freshmen, it’s been studied and researched a lot.”

Teachers discuss available programs for students and parents at Back to school night on Monday, Aug 27.

The Minnesota teacher who started the first BARR program actually struggled previously with getting freshmen to pass her class, and almost quit, before her leaders inspired her to develop a program to take action. Thus, BARR was born.
Dahlstrom says that so far the feedback on the BARR program has been largely positive. “I think they’ve found it beneficial; Before BARR, 50 percent of our freshmen were (failing classes).” Today, Dahlstrom says that rate is now down to 20 percent.
For upperclassmen and their families, Dahlstrom emphasized Tahquitz’ college-minded atmosphere: “For them, we talk about dual enrollment, we talk about CTE (Career Technical Education) pathways, we talk about SAT exams, college kickoff…So we start preparing those parents and those students to create their pathway after they leave here and what they need to do to ensure their success after Tahquitz.”
For all students, Dahlstrom urges them to get involved in extracurriculars early and stay involved. “I say that the more your kid can get involved… they learn communication skills, they learn, they’re creative, they’re innovative, they learn to talk with each other and collaborate as a team. Those are essential skills.”
Dahlstrom’s college-ready sentiments were backed up by AVID coordinator Kacy Simpson, a Cal Poly Pomona graduate. She especially recognizes students who may become the first in their family to head to college, and those who may be struggling to prepare: “Maybe they don’t have someone at home that can help them with the process,” which is where she comes in. Simpson also admits she could have used an AVID program herself: “I struggled a lot in math, so tutorials would have been a really great thing for me.”
Being college-ready is one hope Dahlstrom has for his son, currently an eighth grader. “I want my kid to get involved in as much things as possible.”
Dahlstrom says the BARR program is a program he wishes he had as a high school student: “My worst year was my freshman year,” admits Dahlstrom. “And then you buck down and you realize that you’re already behind!”
Dahlstrom and his staff encourage all students and parents to use the resources available to them at school, on the school’s website: tahquitzhs.org and at the HUSD website: hemetusd.org

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