As the head of Forrest Hill Academy, Tricia Rock (pictured at right, with student) is a principal whose job it is to get her students out of her school even sooner than usual. And by measurable data, she’s getting really good and getting her students out – and back into the “home” schools that sent them to Forrest Hill in the first place. That’s because Forrest Hill is an alternative school inside Atlanta Public Schools whose main mission to take students with any number of challenges – usually behavioral – and help them transition back to their home school and hopefully graduate.
The 2009-10 school year marks the second for Principal Rock and the first since APS reassumed complete control over the school, and the change has been remarkable. According to Rock, of the 180 Forrest Hill students who were returned to their home schools in December, only 6 percent were returned to Forrest Hill. Previously, 50 percent of the students were returned. Both of the school’s juniors passed the Georgia High School Graduation Writing Test, while the middle-schoolers enjoyed a 30 percent pass rate on the state writing scores. And perhaps more to the point with Forrest Hill, disciplinary actions decreased by 40 percent from the previous year, Rock said.
Part of this success, she says, can be attributed to increased community partnerships that have provided a more comprehensive form of mentorship for the students. “Many of our students whom we identified as at-risk were assigned a mentor who was with them from January until end of school,” Rock said, including work with such groups as Outward Bound that promote teamwork with peers. The school brought in guest speakers including students from local sororities Delta Sigma Theta and Alpha Kappa Alpha. A Teen Summit provided both guest speakers and “takeaway” gifts ranging from pencils to clothing.
“We also extended our partnerships with community-based service providers, like organizations that could talk to students about things like anger management,” said Rock, citing such groups as Bridges Center, Family Intervention Services, Proactive Management and Bagley Youth Services. “A parent has opportunity to register each student with at least one provider that would help a parent address a given issue with their child. We get the social worker to assign the student with the group. We’ve done it in the past, but not to the point where every student is assigned a service provider.”
This past week, 100 Forrest Hill students participated in a “Transition Ceremony” to recognize and honor those who have successfully completed the program and will be returning to their home school in August. The ceremony was held at the Dennard Building at Atlanta Technical College, and some 600 guests packed the house to honor the students.
“I’d say we’re a work in progress,” Rock said, “but we look at the data and we’re doing better. We have outreach workers, one for the middle schools and one for the high schools who make contact with the home schools through their respective graduation coaches, and students are telling them they really enjoyed their time at Forrest Hill, that the attention they received was beneficial to them and they returned to their home school and fit right in. I’m hearing from the kids and from some of the principals. They say there’s a difference.