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College and Career Readiness

Increasing Expectations and Supports for All: A Systems Approach to Fostering Equity at Meriden Public Schools

A College Culture for All

Meriden Public Schools (MPS) builds a college and career readiness culture starting on Day 1 in Kindergarten with all incoming kindergarten children receiving t-shirts with the year they will be graduating college. This continues through to their senior year with students participating in a College Signing Day, highlighted with banners and artifacts from the colleges that they will be attending in the fall. High expectations start early as we instill in students and parents that our ultimate goal is to have all students be successful beyond high school through their college graduation day. MPS strongly believes that public education is the great equalizer, all students can succeed, and education provides a path to better lives for our students.  

Student-Centered Learning Environments

With funding from a Nellie Mae Education Foundation grant, MPS has embraced student-centered learning environments to ensure all students are college and career ready.

  • Instructional coaches provide teachers with professional learning opportunities including modeling, co-teaching, and support on a daily basis.
  • Personalized pathways have led to greater voice and choice, critical thinking, creativity, and academic gains.
  • A suite of “climate” tools (e.g.,  Getting to Know You Survey, School Climate Survey for Students, Staff and Parents, MPS Cares (24/7 reporting), Transition Essays, Senior Letters) help us to get to know our students and measures their college and career readiness.
  • Community and Parent Learning Walks, led by teachers, allow community members and parents to see student-centered learning in action.
  • Both staff and students work to embed a growth mindset into the school culture.
  • “No Zero” grading procedures support student effort, leading to greater engagement and motivation.
  • Restorative practices and our work with Everyday Democracy in fostering youth dialogue groups have increased student voice and improved school climates. 
Digital Equity

Our digital transformation levels the playing field and provides 1:1 learning environments for all. Students are provided district-issued mobile devices to use with digital content in classes and on their own to explore anytime, anywhere learning, preparing them for the global world in which we live. Students keep their devices over the summer to continue their learning and to enroll in online courses. They also may “check out” mobile hotspots if they lack Internet access at home. Commitment to student ownership is enhanced by providing high school students with opportunities to design their own credit-bearing personalized learning experiences (PLEs) based on an interest, talent, or career exploration area.

Open Access for All
With open access to classes, including Advanced Placement courses, there are no barriers to accessing high level learning. PSAT benchmark data allows us to meet with students and families to encourage enrollment in an array of advanced placement offerings. students approaching school doorsCurrently, MPS offers twenty-seven Advanced Placement and Early College Experience courses and minority student enrollment has increased exponentially. In addition to our vast array of Advanced Placement offerings, Meriden is thrilled to be participating in a Harvard University credit earning course entitled Poetry In America. Meriden’s Board of Education pays for Advanced Placement testing and recently voted to require all 11th grade students to participate in an SAT Preparation Course. Standards-based curricula and assessments support meaningful student feedback. Middle school students earn high school credits in subjects such as Algebra I, Integrated Physical Science, Spanish 1, Young Adult Literature, Creative Writing/Journalism, while high school students earn college credits. Meriden’s innovative partnership with Middlesex Community College has resulted in MxCC@Platt. Middlesex Community College operates its Meriden Campus Center at Platt High School and, in exchange for the free space, MPS students and staff receive five tuition-free seats in every college class offered at Platt. 
Focus on 9th Grade

With grant funding from Dalio Foundation’s RISE Network, MPS initiated a number of innovative programs to increase ninth grade performance and success, as well as to promote college and career readiness for all students. 

student in classroom

Our Summer Bridge Program, held at the two high schools, supports at-risk entering ninth graders, helping them build relationships and become more comfortable navigating high school. In addition to academics and electives, we created High School 101 to prepare students socially for high school and to help them make new friends. Most importantly, students earn an elective ½ credit giving them an immediate advantage entering ninth grade. Comprehensive follow-up to the summer is provided by On-Track Grade Nine Transition Counselors. To increase credit accumulation and prevent failures and retentions, Transition Counselors provide intensive “case management” support to a targeted caseload of at-risk ninth graders. At risk is defined by an analysis of student attendance, discipline, and academics. Transition Counselors are an integral part of a collaborative Grade 9 Team comprised of a building administrator, ninth grade content teachers and special education personnel. The Team meets three times per week to review academic, attendance and behavioral data, identify On Track, Almost On Track and Off Track students, implement appropriate interventions, and provide an afterschool homework club two days a week. As an outgrowth of these personalized programs, one- to-one conferences take place three times a year with a caring adult sitting with each student individually to review academics and college and career readiness goals. These one-one conferences continue into tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades.

College Support for All

We have greatly expanded college visit opportunities for all students. Beginning with the Bridge Program, entering ninth grade students have an opportunity to visit an in-state college campus. 

two students holding written goals

All Grade 10 students participate in at least one college visit, while Grade 11 and 12 students visit four year and two year colleges of choice. We also offer virtual college tours using the district’s Google Expedition Virtual Reality Lab.  Additionally, both high schools engage in numerous activities promoting college awareness activities and assistance with the college application process. Our Ask The Expert Program identifies high school teachers who have graduated from a specific college and are available to answer questions about their experiences. The high schools also hold Alumni Panels where students have the opportunity to interact with alumni and seek out information from former graduates. For students who need additional support and motivation to complete college applications, we offer College Application Bootcamp where school counselors support students in creating their own Common Application account. Counselors also host FAFSA Workshops, and Military and Apprenticeship Roundtables. The Military Round Table allows students to meet and learn from recruiters representing each branch of the military. This format helps them to make more informed decisions regarding their post-high school plans and provides them with a better understanding of what the military can offer them in regards to benefits and training after graduation.

Apprentice training coordinators from local unions meet with students to educate and inform them of opportunities available within their trade. Students learn what an apprenticeship is, how to apply and what the requirements are. Students make great connections with local industry leaders and learn about a variety of career options.

Students from both schools participate in a College Application Campaign - #WhyApply, #IApplied, #Accepted - which generates excitement and motivation. Once college acceptances start to roll in, we continue to support students with a Scholarship Fair. Representatives from local scholarship committees provide students with information and eligibility criteria. Students also receive information about scholarship opportunities through Naviance, Remind, Twitter, and advisory classes. Again, our culminating event in May is Senior Signing Day where seniors walk across the auditorium stage to cheers and applause from their peers as they celebrate college, military and apprenticeship acceptances. Our junior students are key audience members as they cheer on their seniors and prepare themselves for their turn to celebrate next year.

Getting Results for All

The district’s work in improving college and career readiness is reflected in impressive gains and improvements on academic, attendance and behavioral data. MPS evidenced a 5% increase overall on the State Accountability Index, improved on 11 of the 12 State Indicators and showed increases in all 12 schools. 

Students holding UConn banners

 Additionally, 96% of ninth graders are on track to graduate in four years, 77% of students have a strong “sense of belonging”, suspensions have decreased by 82%, expulsions decreased by 93%, chronic absenteeism decreased by 23%, and our four-year graduation rate has increased by 20%. U.S. News and World Report recognized our high schools in the top 40% of 23,000 public high schools in 50 states and the District of Columbia. In summary, we recognize that we cannot operate in silos of excellence, but must celebrate and share best practices to overcome challenges and provide equitable learning opportunities for every student. 


Summary

Topic: College and Career Readiness

Strategy: 

  • Open access to all high level classes
  • Insist on work completion
  • Embrace technology as a learning tool
  • Challenge and support students
  • Celebrate success

District: Meriden Public Schools

District Snapshot: 7,973 students;30 programs; 77% eligible for free/reduced price meals; 72% nonwhite; 20.5% students with disabilities; 16.1% English learners; 683.7 Full Time Equivalent Educators;  $14,318 expenditures per pupil.

Contact Information: Mark D. Benigni, Ed.D., Superintendent of Schools  203-630-4171, mark.benigni@meridenk12.org