Red Devils winning battles of the books
Red Devil Readiness Program -- “Winners Win Every Day”.
Last year, Clinton High School embarked on a new venture: implementing an academic assistance program within the athletic department for student-athletes in need of academic support.
Jennifer Howard, Head Academic Advisor of what has since become the Red Devil Readiness Program, first brought the idea to Athletic Director Louie Alexander after speaking with a colleague during an educational workshop.
“He began telling me that he spent time monitoring athlete’s grades and helped the athletes when they needed academic support. I knew that we had nothing like that at CHS at the time and I knew that many of the coaches were trying to coach a sport and monitor their player’s grades on top of other coaching duties,” she said.
With Alexander on board and the green light to move forward from the District, Howard presented the idea to Kate Spigener, EEDA Grant Coordinator, to see if there was any interest and funds available to start the program.
“At our school inservice days at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, I sat next to Jennifer Howard in the cafeteria, and she said she went to a professional development over the summer where one of the breakout sessions was about supporting athletes academically. She said she would be interested in trying that at CHS and would I have the funds to possibly start that,” Spigener said. “I said I would be absolutely interested in that, and yes, I did have the funds, and I think she (Howard) would be the perfect person to head up that program.”
In its first year, the program started off by monitoring football. As more sports came into season, those sports were also added. At the end of the year, it was determined that for the best results they would need to start the 2020-21 school year monitoring all sports.
Two weeks into this school year, they began the year by monitoring all sports and have added two additional Academic Advisors, Mary Gibbs and Dorothy Alexander, in addition to Howard.
“We divided the teams up among the three monitors. Since we are now monitoring about 275 individual athletes on 16 sports teams, we also put a weekly routine into place, where everyone involved has clear expectations of their responsibilities: teachers, coaches, athletes, Academic Advisors, etc.,” Spigener said.
This year, the chosen theme for the program is “Winners Win Every Day.” According to Spigener, they want students to understand that winning is about “small choices ever day and that winners make winning choices in every area of life.”
So how is it determined a student-athlete needs to attend tutoring? According to Howard, Academic Monitors keep track of the student’s progress through grades each week. When an athlete’s average falls below a 70, he/she is required to attend tutoring sessions until the average goes over 70. She added that students can also request and attend tutoring even when their grades are above 70.
This year, they’ve observed many students have continued to attend tutoring for several weeks after they were no longer required, either because they want to get their grades higher or prepare for an upcoming test.
“I monitor grades for the Football team (JV and V), Boys and Girls (JV and V) Basketball, and Boys and Girls Track. After monitoring grades, I check in with the coaches and with specific players. I also organize the tutoring sessions by assigning athletes to tutoring and by recruiting tutors help,” she said. “Mary Gibbs and Dorothy Alexander also monitor grades. Mary Gibbs monitors Boys and Girls Soccer, Competitive Cheer, Boys and Girls Tennis, and Cross Country. Dorothy Alexander monitors Baseball (JV and V), Softball (JV and V), Volleyball (JV and V), and Golf.”
In addition, Chris Wofford, Josh Bridges and Katherine Addison tutor math; John Michael Hammond tutors science; and Laura Hall and Darrell Pitts tutor virtual students. Howard also tutors English and History as well as any elective course.
“The coaches for each team help us by checking in with their players throughout the week and by making sure that their players are coming to tutoring,” she said.
In its second year, the RDR program has faced new challenges due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Now social distancing measures have been put into place and tutoring is being offered to students who have chosen to learn virtually.
Spigener said this has been the biggest change and challenge they have faced.
“Because VA (Virtual Academy) students are still on athletic teams, we have to provide them the same opportunity to receive in-person tutoring. Many of our virtual students have teachers at Laurens District High School, which make it more challenging to serve them through our RDR plan, which involves working directly with teachers to find out what students need to work on. We often cannot get in touch with Virtual Academy students for various reasons, and it’s far more difficult to get a grasp on what exactly is keeping students from being successful in class when we can only see them for tutoring 40 minutes a day, twice a week,” she said. “Last year during the second semester, Jennifer worked with some students virtually, tutoring them in classes where they were struggling. This year, we have not had to do virtual tutoring. We were lucky enough to get to continue in-person tutoring with social distancing protocols in place from the end of September until last week (Nov. 9-13). We are currently taking a short break in tutoring to allow for switching sports seasons, switching from Quarter 1 to Quarter 2, and to put a new plan into place for E-Learning.”
Although the program is fairly new, Howard and Spigener have seen significant changes in the student-athletes.
“I could tell you so many stories of students who have struggled all through high school, who have made huge strides in their academics this semester. Every week, there are several students who show up just to get ahead, even though they aren’t assigned to do their work. Students stop Jennifer and I in the hall and tell us what they made on a test, or stop us and tell us ‘I know my grade is a 58 but I’ve already asked him to send work for me to RDR this week,’” Spigener said. “Many of these are students are repeating a class, or have shown little or no effort academically in the past. Many are at high risk of drop out due to a combination of factors in their lives, some they can control and some they cannot. Many of them are the students who “fall between the cracks”. We believe the power of having adults in the building who are checking on them, and following up on them, and sometimes enforcing “tough love” when they don’t do the right thing, is the most powerful agent for change in young people. These students are what makes all of the work we put into RDR worth it. We knew we were making progress. It wasn’t until we saw the 97 percent pass rate for the quarter that we knew just how much.”
Howard echoed Spigener’s comment saying the positive changes are what keeps her fighting for the program.
“Of course, their grades are improving, but it’s so much more than that for me. I see an improvement in attitudes towards school. I see an improvement in their willingness to work ahead and work harder than they were working before. The biggest success moments for me are when athletes come into tutoring who choose to be there. I also see an improvement in self confidence in the classroom,” she said. “What we were able to accomplish the last nine weeks has been the highlight of my returning to school. To many, RDR is just a tutoring program, but to me, when I think of RDR, I see specific players’ faces. The biggest reward for me has been establishing a rapport with them so that they know extra adults are in their cheering section.”
For Athletic Director Louie Alexander, it’s all about the student-athlete’s being successful in the classroom, on the field/court and in life.
“This program provides another opportunity and outlet for them to achieve academic success and to get remediation and tutoring. Also, if any student-athlete has the potential to play at the next level, I don’t want them denied their chance for academic qualifying issues. We are trying to provide a service that enables student-athletes the opportunity to achieve success,” he said.
Moving forward with the program, Alexander wants to see the program grow and continue to get better.
“We have remarkable teachers putting in a lot of time and effort to see continued student growth. We have data to back that up. When students grow in confidence and take responsibility for their academic success - GREAT things are going to continue,” he said.
Howard and Spigener commended Alexander for all he has done to help make the program successful.
“More than anything, he set an expectation that academic success is of utmost importance. He has communicated with coaches and with athletes to make sure that everyone understands the program. He attends RDR sessions. His presence at tutoring alone speaks volumes to our athletes about the importance of their school work,” Howard said.
“Louie’s support has been invaluable to this program. We have an excellent working relationship. I meet briefly with Jennifer every morning, we discuss any issues that need to be addressed, and if there are issues that we need Louie’s input on, I go down to Louie’s office and address them with him right away. I also bring him a report on how tutoring went on Friday and Tuesday mornings (after tutoring the day before). We go over who was absent (“No Shows”), any issues with athletes, any changes that need to happen, and I give him a run down of how our attendance data measures up to our goals,” Spigener said. “Louie comes down to tutoring as often as possible and looks into each of the rooms, which are all grouped near each other but the students are separated by subject area being tutored. Louie’s biggest role, in my opinion, is establishing a school culture around our athletics department of excellence in everything we do. He has been unwavering in his support of Red Devil Readiness, Jennifer, and I in everything we ask him to do, and every crazy idea we come up with. Without a supportive athletic director willing to put in the work, there would be no Red Devil Readiness.”