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Algona reports success

All freshmen pass all classes in first quarter

-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari
Algona High School junior Hailee Merryman, 16, center; senior Brooke Fonley, 18, right, and junior Skyler Groen, 17, chat during a recent lunch period. The three students are members of the high school’s Link Crew, which works to connect the freshmen with upperclassmen students.

ALGONA — The Algona Community School District has much to celebrate after every single one of its high school freshman passed all their classes in the first quarter of the year.

While that may not seem surprising, High School Principal Jared Cecil said he’s been with the district for 10 years, and according to high school records, there has never been a quarter or a semester where every student has passed all of their classes.

“We’ve never had a quarter in the last 40 quarters where all freshmen passed,” Cecil said. “And then I went on to look at all of our grade levels. We’ve never had any grade pass all of their classes in any given quarter.”

To break it down, Cecil said there are about 100 students in the freshman class, and they take anywhere from six to eight classes.

There are a number of factors he believes led to the success of all the freshmen students.

-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari
Marty Fonley, superintendent of the Algona Community School District, looks over a board dedicated to the opening of the school’s new auditorium.

One of them is weekly meetings between Cecil and the freshmen teachers.

“We discuss, kid by kid, anybody who’s needing any assistance,” Cecil said. “From that, we have a student draft. Each of us takes two to four kids that we have some sort of connection with and start those conversations.”

Those conversations involve the students, teachers and their parents to help figure out why that student is struggling.

In fact, Cecil said he recently spoke with a freshman student who had missed a couple days of school, to help her figure out how she could catch up and get back on track.

Besides the weekly meetings, Cecil said the school started a new club called Link Crew, which is made up of juniors and seniors who help mentor the freshmen.

“(Two to three days) before teachers are all back on staff, we invite the freshmen in to do some large group things,” Cecil said. “But they have a couple hours of their day where groups of eight to 10 freshmen are matched up with two Link Crew leaders.”

Working in small groups, he said the Link Crew leaders work on team-building and problem-solving activities with the freshmen.

After the activities, the groups then come back together for discussion.

“What failures or frustrations did you experience and how did you find success?” Cecil asked.

The Link Leaders then bring the discussion back to school work, and how those frustrations can be related back to school.

“And then they talk about strategies to overcome and have success,” he said.

One part of the process includes the juniors and seniors telling their life stories to the freshmen, which Cecil believes benefits the freshmen as well.

“I think a lot of our freshmen see these juniors and seniors and think, ‘They’ve got it made,'” Cecil said. “To hear our juniors and seniors talk about, ‘I knew I was heading down this path, but I decided later those aren’t the friends I wanted to have.'”

“Each of them have a very unique story,” he added. “Each of them have overcome obstacles to get where they are. They didn’t just walk down a golden path to get where they are today.”

Following orientation, the Link Crew continues to meet with the freshmen throughout the year with weekly meetings.

And he believes helping to motivate the freshmen inspires them to want to do better.

He said he was recently talking to a freshman boy who was struggling with some of his classes. The student reassured Cecil that he would end up passing his classes, because that student didn’t want to be known as the one who failed while everyone else succeeded.

While the freshmen have experienced success, Cecil said the upperclassmen have done much work with career development and post-high-school work.

The school recently implemented Individual Career and Academic Planning, a four-year process that helps the students understand what they want to do once they’re done with high school.

Cecil said there are five components to ICAP, including self-understanding.

That includes looking at interests, work habits and personality, “so we can get kids to start looking at what interests you have, what skill sets you have, and then we explore careers.”

The next two components are career information and career exploration, where the school has professionals from various careers come in to speak to students about opportunities available in those fields. Part of these explorations include every high school junior taking part in a job shadow.

There’s also post-secondary exploration as well as career and post-secondary decision.

Cecil said he’s heard back from colleges telling him that Algona High School graduates are among the top students they’ve seen applying to their institutions.

Building improvements

In addition to academic success, the Algona Community School District also recently finished a major addition to its building.

In the fall of 2016, the Ed & Betty Wilcox Performing Arts Center opened to both the school and the public.

Superintendent Marty Fonley said the auditorium, which is 28,000 square feet and can seat 863, is open to the public for community events.

This included a recent concert that featured both the Algona Community School District and students from Bishop Garrigan High School.

All students who participated in the concert signed a photo, which was framed and now sits in the lobby of the performing arts center.