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Douglass 9th Grade STEAM Academy celebrates progress of first year

by Thomas Scott

After its first full school year, The Frederick Douglass 9th Grade STEAM Academy has a lot to be proud of.

As the only APS school with a separate ninth-grade academy on a separate campus from the main high school, the Douglass 9th Grade STEAM Academy made significant progress across several data points including attendance, retention and student sense of belonging.

“One of the reasons we started the ninth-grade academy was simply because Douglass had the lowest graduation rate, the highest suspension rate, and the highest dropout rate in the district,” Douglass High School principal Forrestella Taylor said. “These are all things that just plagued the school and removed it so far from what it used to be, which was a national school of excellence.”

Frederick Douglass 9th Grade STEAM Academy students taking an Usher’s New Look Spark assessment (photo: Lauren Cole).

Creating the ninth-grade academy was just one of the strategies implemented to help change the school’s culture and student’s trajectory. Previously, ninth graders were the primary source of out-of-school suspensions, inappropriate offenses, and negative behavior offenses.

“There’s definitely a much safer environment on our campus,” Taylor said. “Simply by putting systems and protocols in place that protect the environment and being able to do so because we can keep our ninth grade separate and focus on what needs to be focused there. It’s like night and day at the main campus.”

The APS Class of 2023 achieved an all-time high graduation rate of 86.6%, according to graduation data released today by the Georgia Department of Education, and Douglass High School led the district with the largest increase in percentage points (7.2) gained compared to 2022. See. Figure. 1.

Figure 1: 2023 APS Graduation Rates and Change from 2022

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Since separating from the main campus, students at the ninth-grade academy reported having a clear sense of belonging, and each student could identify at least one adult with whom they had a connection with or built a relationship with.

“What we’ve experienced in just two years’ time is a shift in the culture where our students were not necessarily excited to own the fact that they were Douglass students,” Taylor said. “They very much say it loud and proud now, ‘It’s a great day to be an Astro,’ and it is.”

The smaller campus allowed students to have more personalized learning and goal setting meetings where they could see their grades, talk about them and set their own goals.

Douglass 9th Grade STEAM Academy social worker Kimberly Brown Mack works with a student on a Spark assessment (photo: Lauren Cole).

Utilizing a separate ninth-grade campus also resulted in improved attendance. Ninth grade had the highest average daily attendance rate among all four grade levels, according to Taylor.

The ninth-grade failure rate decreased significantly as well. Douglass’ retention rate, the number of students retained out of the class, dropped from 100-150 each year, to only 40. After a year with the ninth-grade academy, less than 40 students had to repeat ninth grade and the out-of-school suspension rate reduced by approximately 20%.

“All those data points, suspension, attendance, sense of belonging, can contribute to dropout rates if they’re in the negative,” Taylor said. “We have a long way to go, but the initial year of the ninth-grade academy has proven that we need to continue on this path. We’re excited about the things we’ve learned from our inaugural year, and really excited about what this will look like moving forward.”

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