February 6, 2004

Southwest Middle Students Raise Their Grades—and a Piñata

Nearly 100 students eliminate their ‘F’ grades

Just six weeks ago, more than 300 students at Southwest Middle School were on track to fail one or more courses. Today, nearly one-third of the students experienced a turnaround.

The improvement is a result of the “F Destroyer Club,” a creative school intervention aimed at struggling students. Key to the effort is a series of sobering talks between the teens and school staff members about the consequences of getting an “F.” All of the students signed a pledge to attend Homework Club or take other measures to improve academically.

Those who were able to raise their grades were honored recently at a school pizza party, complete with piñata in the shape of the letter “F.” Students took turns taking a swing at the piñata, a gesture symbolic of their efforts to knock out failing marks.

Principal Tom Rodrigo said there’s a greater correlation nowadays between failing grades and poor performance on standardized tests. There are also relatively new, policy-driven consequences to failing. At the Sweetwater District, if students obtain an “F” in English or math in middle school, they are unable to participate in promotion ceremonies.

“That was a big ‘A-ha!’—a wake-up call—for the kids,” Rodrigo said. “I told them they would be watching all their friends walk across the stage to obtain their diplomas ‘and you’re not going to be there.’ They’ll still be able to be promoted if they met other requirements, but they won’t be able to take part in the ceremony. For a lot of our families, it’s critical and important that they see their child walk across the stage and get their diploma.”

After-school programs, tutoring and other support services helped the students focus on their studies. Events like the pizza and piñata party can only help in efforts to get even more students to improve their grades.

“This is the first time we’ve done this type of activity,” Rodrigo said. “This helps reinforce the message, the mindset that academics are important and good grades are going to affect the future. With time, you’ll see the numbers continuing to improve.”

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