2019 California Distinguished Schools Program

Model Programs and Practices Narrative

School’s Model Program/Practice: Freshman Focus




Our model program, Freshman Focus, serves a two-fold purpose of providing a structure for increasing 9th grade student engagement, while also giving a concrete framework for college and career readiness. The combination of two freshmen programs, Link Crew and Get Focused Stay Focused/Exploratory Wheel (GFSF/EW), lay the foundation for student success. Every 9th grade student in the school participates in Link Crew and all students are required to enroll and pass the GFSF/EW courses as a graduation requirement.


Freshman Focus grew out of an analysis of data. The Mark Keppel High School (MKHS) staff reviews data regularly via Illuminate, interim assessments, grade analysis including D/F rates, graduation rates, A-G rates, Honors/Advanced Placement, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), and formal/informal assessments. After reviewing the data, staff determined a need to address the D/F rate, attendance, graduation rate, and the achievement gap. Staff investigated available programs that could provide social/emotional/behavioral support, school climate support, and student engagement support via team building and making connections with students within small communities. Staff realized that if we could provide a foundation for 9th grade students at the start of high school, we could positively affect student success as they advance through 12th grade.


In 2014, MKHS added the Boomerang Project’s student orientation and freshman transition program, Link Crew. Link Crew is a freshman transition program that sets a positive tone at the school site for incoming freshmen and establishes an atmosphere of comfort and support. The program closely aligns with our Goal 4 of LCAP - Student Engagement that states, “Through a collaborative approach, the District will maintain a safe, nurturing, positive and orderly learning environment where students are actively engaged in their learning.” Link Crew Commissioners (teachers) train incoming juniors and seniors as mentors and positive role models for incoming 9th graders. Various activities are planned throughout the school year to provide academic and social emotional support including but not limited to: Summer Games (ice breakers, team building), Freshman Orientation (first day of school event for team building), Football Game Tailgate on campus, Back to School Spirit Week, Lunch with freshmen, Art Contest, Movie Nights, Fundraisers, Trick or Treat, Link Crew Olympic Games, Cocoa & Cram, and student to student mentoring.


In 2015, the Alhambra Unified School District (AUSD) adopted Academic Innovations’ Get Focused Stay Focused (GFSF) Curriculum.  AUSD recognized the need to “provide an equitable, quality and rigorous education for each child to be College and Career Ready (CCR)” and built this into Goal 2 - Instruction portion of the LCAP. It is explicitly stated in the LCAP that the school will “Develop and enhance student learning experiences and opportunities including Career Technical Education (CTE) that will support a well-rounded education, as well as close the Hispanic Achievement Gap and target additional underperforming subgroups as indicated by the California Dashboard by: 1. Implementing Career Technical Education programs for all students, including California Partnership Academies; 2. Implementing Get Focused Stay Focused (GFSF) courses; 3. Implementing the ‘10-year College and Career Plan’.”


The Get Focused Stay Focused/Exploratory Wheel courses create a space where students are required to learn and practice valuable skills for career and college readiness. Students take one course per semester. In the GFSF/EW semester course, students are introduced to short-and long-term goal setting, culminating with an online “My10yearplan” by the end of 9th grade. The “My10yearplan” can be regularly updated throughout high school and accessed by all teachers and counselors on site. Students demonstrate their understanding of selected career paths and the education required to be successful, through a variety of assessments, projects, job simulations, speeches, research assignments, online portfolio, and essay papers. Students identify academic interests, skills, values and personality types, research employers and industries, gain experience with public speaking and interview skills, familiarize themselves with college and job search tools, strengthen writing skills, learn goal setting, solidify research techniques, and write a research paper utilizing correct MLA format.


In the Exploratory Wheel semester course, students explore a broad-based career education with an integrated common education core. Students are exposed to a rotation of three industry sectors. The course focuses on career guidance, general safety for a variety of industry specific technical skills, technology, and tools specific for the industry. Students will be able to make informed educational decisions relating to career choices. Industry sectors explored may include a rotation of three of following career pathways:

  • Arts, Media and Entertainment/Manufacturing and Product Development Marketing – Graphic Design & Advertising Career Exploration
  • Business and Finance – Business & Finance Career Exploration
  • Engineering and Architecture/Building and Construction – Engineering Career Exploration
  • Health Science and Medical Technology – Medical Careers Exploration
  • Hospitality - Culinary Arts & Food Career Exploration
  • Transportation – Automotive Technology Career Exploration

The combined efforts of Link Crew and GFSF/EW  provides our site with a unique opportunity to address our site needs and offer the necessary support to improve student engagement and high school to college and career trajectories. Both Link Crew and GFSF/EW teachers have opportunities throughout the year to attend intensive planning and collaboration. Since the implementation of the freshmen programs, there has been an increase in communication between our Link Crew, GFSF/EW teachers, freshmen teachers, administrators, school counselors, and support staff. After two years of Link Crew implementation, we combined efforts by adding the GFSF/EW teachers to the Link Crew Commissioners.  The overlapping staff and shared vision allows us to address our student needs. Our vision for the anticipated outcomes of our Freshman Focus is improved attendance, graduation rate, college and career readiness, and school culture.


Link Crew is a Title I funded transition program. Staff members receive dynamic professional development each summer for program implementation. Staff members plan and collaborate throughout the year to recruit, interview, and train incoming 11th and 12th grade student leaders for our annual events.


GFSF/EW is funded by a combination of LCAP (general), CTE Incentive Grant, and a partnership with Academic Innovations and East Los Angeles College. Student and teacher textbooks, and “My10yearplan” subscriptions are funded through East Los Angeles College (ELAC) partnership agreement with Academic Innovations.  Academic Innovations funds the annual teacher and administrator training. In return, we offer a dual enrollment course for GFSF/EW where students have the ability to receive transferable college credit, while earning high school graduation credit. Three CTE teachers were hired and funded by the AUSD general fund and CTE IG in order to adequately staff to meet the needs of students in the GFSF/EW courses.


Implementation and Monitoring


Parents play an active role in their children’s education at MKHS. Our parents and community participates in SSC, ELAC, PTSA, Alliance, boosters, and parent workshops. The SSC reviews and analyzes data annually to evaluate the effectiveness of the Link Crew program in meeting site needs. Students are encouraged to engage with their parents regarding their assignments, such as career research and budgeting, in order to create the link to real-world experiences.


Parents of incoming 9th grade students are informed about Link Crew and our GFSF/EW classes during our eighth Grade Parent Information Night, eighth Grade Showcase, and registration meetings. Parents are given informational handouts about the GFSF/EW program and the possibility of earning college credit through the course. Parents have the opportunity to meet the GFSF/EW and Link Crew Teachers at our Back to School Night to provide early feedback to our community. Our GFSF/EW teachers and students presented to the Alhambra School Board in October 2016. Teachers and students shared their positive experiences about the class and curriculum.


In preparation for our implementation, Link Crew teachers attended an initial three-day training and refresher trainings during subsequent years. Incoming 11th and 12th grade students apply to be Link Crew Leaders and are interviewed and selected during spring of the previous year. Over the summer, selected Link Crew Leaders are trained approximately eight hours total over a two day period with the curriculum from the Boomerang Project. Link Crew Leader training includes attitude and enthusiasm of a leader, how to handle difficult situations in a positive way, the goals of inclusiveness and sensitivity, how to lead icebreakers in an increasing level of sophistication to slowly draw in the freshmen and decrease their stress about participating, how to work with their partner leader, and developing phone skills when making home calls to invite freshmen to various events.


Additionally during the year, leaders are trained to facilitate more challenges that are completed during the GFSF/EW classes and to innovate ideas for the events we hold for planning organization and communication of said events (Olympics, tailgate, cocoa and cram). Link Crew Commissioners, GFSF/EW Teachers, freshmen teachers, counselors, and administrators work together throughout the year to plan, coordinate, support the annual activities, and improve implementation of the Freshmen Focus.


Academic Innovations provided professional development for teachers and administration prior to and throughout our implementation. Academic Innovation makes regular contact with our site about the implementation of the program and offers site and technical support.  It allowed the school and district teams to understand and implement the comprehensive course. Professional development included providing a strategic plan for reaching every learner with a comprehensive guidance course in 9th grade and follow-up modules in 10th - 12th grades, improving student motivation as students answer the questions: Who am I? What do I want? How do I get it? and realize that they need to take initiative to reach their goals, developing students' financial literacy skills and teach  how to be independent adults in the future, and providing students with an online 10-year Career & Educational Plan that will guide them through postsecondary planning and matriculation.


AUSD provides time for all GFSF/EW teachers from all three high school sites with time to plan and collaborate. This time is spent sharing best practices, providing lesson demonstrations to other sites, collaborating on curriculum to align sites, discussing methodology to better improve curriculum and lesson pacing, and providing training for online components such as the “My10yearplan”.


Teachers collaborate in an ongoing basis in order to effectively monitor both programs and review student progress. GFSF/EW teachers meet during their common conference period and during designated collaboration time to review student work and calibrate their instructional practices. The GFSF/EW teachers monitor student progress on the on-line “My10yearplan” and make adjustments accordingly. At the end of each semester, D/F data is reviewed by teachers and administrators. Link Crew Teachers meet with student leaders in order to gauge participation and alter activities accordingly. Link Crew student leaders conduct check-ins with their freshmen groups to evaluate their transitional needs.


Results and Outcomes


Ongoing progress monitoring of the freshman focus program occurs through a quarterly review of data, staff collaboration, and School Site Council review and update of the School Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA). Our review of data has shown improvement in our targeted areas.


MKHS is one of the pilot schools for GFSF/EW in AUSD and has become the model for implementation districtwide. Our cohort of teachers have provided professional development and support to other district teachers. The GFSF/EW teachers’ leadership has not only enhanced the program, but increased our students’ interest in their post-secondary life. In addition, the school is participating in a research study with UC Santa Barbara (UCSB). At the end of the study, UCSB will provide longitudinal data between targeted and non-targeted student groups. In the meantime we have seen GFSF/EW success in the classwork our students produce, in anecdotal data, and in the quantitative data we provide below.

Student surveys indicate that there are many valuable components to GFSF/EW.  Students enjoy the mock interview, job search, and budgeting activities because they provide a real world application and post-secondary experience. Since implementation, 92% of our freshmen class passed the GFSF/EW class by completing their detailed “My10yearplan” and real-world assignments. By the end of their high school career, 100% of our graduating students will have passed the GFSF/EW class and completed their detailed “My10yearplan” and real-world assignments. The GFSF/EW teachers use the results of student surveys and student work to revise instruction for continual program improvement. Students successfully presented their experience at a District Board meeting. The presentation helped the AUSD Board solidify their commitment to the program.

A review of the A-G data from the start of Link Crew up to the present indicates an increase in students completing A-G requirements from 51.5% in 2013-14 to 66.5% in 2016-17. In addition, MKHS has made significant gains in closing the achievement gap for our targeted groups meeting A-G requirements. Since the implementation of Link Crew in 2014 we have seen an approximately 10% decrease in the gap between our Hispanic and Asian population (41.7% to 31%).

MKHS has established a positive school climate by maintaining a less than 1% suspension and expulsion rate since 2014. We attribute our decline in disciplinary issues in part, to the improvement in school culture and integration of freshmen students into our vibrant MKHS community.

MKHS staff reviews attendance data on a regular basis. Our Attendance Office works closely with the Counseling Office so that we can prevent truancy issues. Counselors and administrators meet with parents and students to provide intervention and support. Link Crew Leader check-ins with freshmen have built relationships that resulted in increased student engagement. MKHS has steadily improved the attendance rate from 2013 to present.  Our current absenteeism rate is 2.19%, about one third of the Alhambra District rate of 6.9%.


MKHS students made significant gains on the CAASPP (SBAC). For 2017-18 MKHS increased by 3.3 points on the ELA portion of the SBAC with 82 points above standard. MKHS scores increased by 11.6 points on the math portion of the SBAC with 70.1 points above standard. We believe that there is a relationship between the increased SBAC scores and the implementation of Freshman Focus.

Link Crew transitions students from 8th grade to high school. Every year our upperclassman apply to be Link Crew Leaders to support incoming freshmen. Students report that they realize the value of the program and want to return the favor by helping future students. We are never short of Link Crew leaders because they see a clear connection between what they do and student success.

Focusing on freshmen has provided MKHS with multiple opportunities to engage students and promote academic and social-emotional success as they transition to high school and beyond.