High expectations are vital to a successful high school, but those expectations must be combined with needed resources, with strong relationships, and with engaging curriculum. Located in a high-poverty area of rural Maryland, Pocomoke High School illustrates this winning recipe—encouraging students to “dream big” and providing them with multiple supports to help make those dreams come true.
In this positive, inclusive school community, every Pocomoke High School student is connected to one supportive adult, and teachers and staff keep track among themselves of their contacts and connections, noting students they should tag for additional outreach. Using a “Four-House” model with each student belonging to one house, the school also creates small communities to better support students’ learning and academic goals.
Similarly, the school empowers its teachers to collaborate, learn and grow through professional opportunities embedded in their daily work life. Teachers open their classrooms to each other to reflect on their practices and improve their teaching. Peer observers identify compelling instruction and post compliments on boards outside teachers’ classrooms. Professional development topics are generated by teachers themselves, focusing on what they and their students need. This past year these have included their own anti-racism efforts and ways to increase student engagement.
By understanding the local contexts and surrounding community, educators at Pocomoke cultivate one-on-one relationships with students, as they invite families, community members, local businesses and service agencies to join them as key partners in the life of the school and surrounding community. These collaborations result in strong health and mental health services available to students, free dental care on site, and significant extended and enriched learning experiences for students.
Your60, a special hour of every school day, is devoted to addressing specific student needs and interests. Students access an array of academic and enrichment choices on any given day, many of which generate from their own ideas and requests. Representatives from colleges, trade schools, local businesses and even NASA meet with students to expose them to internships and post-secondary opportunities.
During Your60, students might also access academic support or tutoring, spend time with community mentors, or participate in club activities. Other options include enrichment sessions based on student interests ranging from topics focused on test anxiety or completing strong college applications to discussion groups on racism, sexism, and LGBT issues. All adults in the school (including custodians and support staff) make themselves available to students during this special time.
The payoff of these efforts includes one of the highest student attendance rates in the county. Described by visiting members of our NEPC team as “a very exciting [and] powerful and positive place for students to learn and grow,” Pocomoke High School is a unique and welcome addition to the Schools of Opportunity project.