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Topic: Washburn Ready—High school Q&A with counselors, JPS alumni, and parents
Date: March 12
Time: 6:30 pm
Location: JPS Media Center

Notes from Washburn Ready Panel, hosted by the Justice Page PTA on March 12, 2019.

In attendance:

  • Erin Rathke, JPS Principal
  • Michelle Terpening, Washburn 11th/12th Grade Assistant Principal
  • Dr. Emily Palmer, Washburn Principal
  • Carolyn Cottingham, JPS 7th/8th Grade Counselor
  • Melanie Faulhaber and Jen Buss, Washburn Council representatives
  • 9th grade students

Q: What happens at Washburn Registration Night?
Michelle Terpening: On Registration Night there are three time slots for families who will come, look at classes, hear a rundown of class offerings, and choose your classes that day. You'll have an opportunity to meet with teachers if you're unsure of placement in classes such as world language or math. If you can't make it, the counselors will host a makeup session, usually about a week after or will come to middle school to make sure students are signed up. It's April 25, and you'll get a postcard. Everything will also be on the Washburn website.

Carolyn Cottingham: The week before the 25th I go to all our language arts classes and talk to students about which classes they should be filling out on the course cards. I'll pre-teach that to students so it's fresh in their minds when they register. Eighth graders will take a placement test in their world language class to determine which class they sign up for.

Dr. Emily Palmer: It's also easy to switch in the first few weeks if you're in the wrong one. We're going to make sure everyone is in the right place.

Michelle Terpening: A sample course card will be available during spring break so families can look at that, and there is a course catalog on the website.

Dr. Emily Palmer: The only choice for 9th graders is going to be whether or not to take AP in social studies because they will already know which world language and math to take based on their 8th grade placement. We intentionally don't have a bunch of college credit classes in 9th grade because you don't need them. That choice of more challenge is up to that student. You don't need it, but it's there if you want it. There are more AP options in 10th grade and the IB classes in 11th and 12th grade.

Q: Can you explain the IB program?
Dr. Emily Palmer: Washburn is an authorized IB World School with a focus on the diploma program which is predominantly in 11th and 12th grade. We use the AP program as a stepping off point in some of the different disciplines. Why IB? I'm a huge fan because it's the best education out there. It's an international standard that was designed for folks abroad. It's not just test prep. AP is more knowledge based; IB uses more conceptual thinking and teaches you to apply the knowledge. Our kids who finish with an IB diploma, it's like they've just completed their freshman year of college. We have IB courses in all of the major departments. And the higher level IB courses have college testing the same way the AP does. We also have some courses, like engineering, where you can take the courses and test for college credit every year. You don't have to be a diploma candidate to take the classes. We have 21 students who earned the whole diploma last year, but hundreds took classes and tested and earned credits in certain disciplines. To get the diploma you have to test in 6 different areas and certain ones have to be the higher level versus the standard level.There are also some additional pieces required. It's a two year commitment, but we like to have students identify in 9th or 10th grade so we can give them the additional support they need.

Q: What can 8th graders do to mentally prepare for becoming a high schooler?
Michelle Terpening: My answer is grow up now. Figure out things now so that when you walk in the door as a freshman, you are ready to be serious about high school. High school counts. Your grades count. Getting off on the right foot is most important. Think about what it's like to be a high schooler.

Carolyn Cottingham: Have good study habits before you start high school. Have a set time and place at home to study. Know what people and resources, like tutoring at the library, can help you. Know who your support people are at high school.

Q: What's the importance of GPA?
Dr. Emily Palmer: It's important to get As and Bs. That’s where the scholarship money is.

Michelle Terpening: Your GPA counts in high school. In middle school, regardless of the grade you're getting, your GPA doesn't count. The minute you walk in the door at high school, colleges, future employers, car insurance all pay attention. Your high school record starts the first day of 9th grade and will follow you all through high school. Our counselors will walk you through the first few weeks and teach you how to calculate GPA. Good grades matter. If you don't pass an English class, you have to repeat it in summer school, or you don't graduate.

Dr. Emily Palmer: You don't have to have a 3.9 to get into a great school. Colleges want you to be a whole human being with passions and things that you love other than grinding to get the As. Balance is an IB value, part of the learner profile. Harvard will reject you with a 4.0 if you're not interesting and let in someone with a 3.7 who is.

Q: How important is it to get involved in extracurriculars as a 9th grader, and how do you find balance between academics and extracurriculars?
9th graders: You get to meet a lot of people when you're on a team or part of a group. There is still enough time afterwards to get things done.

Michelle Terpening: There is no GPA requirement for clubs; however, we do follow the district and Minnesota State High School guidelines. For the district, you have to be in good standing with a 2.0 GPA and be making progress towards graduation and good attendance.

Q: Is there a summer open house for incoming 9th graders?
Michelle Terpening: There is. It's the Wednesday before school starts. We'll send out postcards and make announcements on our website. We'll have a freshmen orientation as part of that. We'll invite freshmen to come two to three hours earlier, and we'll do a scavenger hunt, get to meet your teachers, get your schedule ahead of time, etc.

Washburn Parent Council: I think it made a big difference for my freshman who was able to walk in and know where things were and being able to ease into the school. There is something at Washburn for everyone, and it can help them find ways to get involved.

Q: Why don't a lot of students use their lockers?
9th graders: At Page we weren't allowed to bring our backpacks to class. In high school you can, so a lot of students carry around their backpacks with everything they need for class and don't find the need to go to their lockers.

Dr. Emily Palmer: They don't tend to wear coats!

Washburn Parent Council: The kids like the down packable jackets you can stuff in your bag. The more time at your locker, the less time there is to socialize with your friends. They only have the 5 minutes in passing time to see their friends or use their phones because there are no phones in classes.

Q: How long is the school day?
Michelle Terpening: It starts at 8:30 and ends at 3. There is an optional zero hour that begins at 7:30.

Dr. Emily Palmer: Zero hour is an opportunity if students want more classes. It's a way to have a 7-hour day. You don't have to do it. The IB diploma candidates mostly do because there are some additional requirements for them. We have about 300 kids who are taking zero hour right now. We have kids who want to take both concert band and jazz band, which is only offered zero hour. We have kids who want to fit more electives into their schedule.

Michelle Terpening: Not all classes are offered zero hour. For 9th graders, English 9, phy ed, and jazz band will be available as zero hour. We have about 60 9th graders out of 430 who take zero hour.

Q: What are the student transportation options?
Michelle Terpening: We don't have school buses; they are just for special education students. We have a ton of city bus lines (the 18 is the most common). We have 4 different bus stops right around Washburn. We have a liaison at the district who makes sure the drop off times of the city buses match up with our start times. All of our students who are on the 18 get dropped off around 8:10 or 8:15 and have plenty of time to come in and get breakfast, go to their locker, and start their day. The transportation coordinator will work with the city to fix bus times as needed, including for zero hour. Students who receive free and reduced lunch or who are in our attendance area but outside the 2-mile mark get a free bus pass. All students can purchase a significantly discounted bus pass, about $75 per quarter, and that bus pass works every day of the week from 5:30 am to 10 pm, so you can use it after school and on the weekends too. On April 25 and at our August event, we'll have a metro transit representative on hand with maps to help students figure out which routes to take.

Washburn Parent Council: Metro Transit also has a great app to help figure out the bus routes, and there are a lot of kids who bus together.

Dr. Emily Palmer: They'll get their bus pass the Wednesday before school starts.

Q: What is magical about Washburn and what makes it a special place for our 8th graders to pathway to?
Dr. Emily Palmer: Washburn is an incredible community, so connected and just good to each other. One of the things I complimented the students on at our first assembly was, watching students in the halls, they're just good to each other. I've spent a lot of years in both middle school and high school and have taught every grade from 6th to 12th. Students are really cool with each other and staff are really supportive; it's an incredible faculty. The way we connect with each other to be Millers has really impressed me. I feel confident that everyone will find their place.

Q: Who will my child's counselor be, and when do we meet with him or her?
Michelle Terpening: Counselors are arranged by alphabet. We have five full-time counselors at Washburn. All students can meet their counselors at Welcome Back Night. There is also a freshman parent orientation that night where you'll get a chance to talk with counselors. We would encourage you to come to all the different parent events we have throughout your child's 9th grade year. If students need help with their schedule or academic planning, they can make appointments with their counselor. During the first few weeks of school, counselors are in the 9th grade classrooms making sure that you're seeing their faces, you're connecting, and you know how to use them. The parent and family events are key.

Dr. Emily Palmer: You have the same counselor for four years.

Michelle Terpening: We also have three social workers in addition to counselors, so we have a variety of support services. We know that that's important for well rounded students. If you need assistance with special ed or 504, we have people to help you with that.

Q: How much homework will 9th graders have, and how much should parents be monitoring their student's grades?
Erin Rathke: Our mission at Justice Page is to make sure kids have all the options they want when they go to Washburn. We have very structured homework: this is your homework, and this is when it's due. That is developmentally appropriate for a middle schooler. I, too, have done high school and middle school. And just because the homework may look different than here, doesn't mean it's less rigorous. The deadlines here are shorter to help middle schoolers fulfill that request from a teacher. In high school, you should be able to take on a larger project, and it will look different.

Dr. Emily Palmer: There are three things I ask a family. The number one thing you can do to ensure your kid's success in high school is expect As and Bs. Make it a family value. Look at your child, and say, "Yes, you can!" and expect it. Kids will rise and fall to our expectations. Thing two is build in time for homework and study, at least an hour, somewhere other than their bedroom. They don't need you sitting with them or helping them with the homework. You just need to sit them down and make sure that time is there even if they say they have no homework. The third thing is know about blue light. It's really important that the screens get turned off well before bedtime, and that there is a defined policy. Sleep is primary, it's important. There needs to be a defined time. Occasionally they will have to go a little later with homework. But the screens need to go off for their brains to relax. The screens' blue light keeps them awake. You can set timers so the blue lights can go off at a certain time. Kids staying on devices say they're not tired, but then they end up sleep deprived, and no one can be academically or emotionally successful when they are sleep deprived. The bedtime thing will be a battle and will take a lot of your energy, but you don't need to be as involved in the grades. I'd say check the portal once a week and then check in with your student. You don't need to be the one to figure out what assignments they are missing; they are able to do that. It's about being ready for college, and they won't be ready for college if you are figuring out which assignments they are missing. It's time to step back, and it's up to them to talk to their teachers about grades before the end of each quarter. Parents have permission to step back and not be the homework nag because it's high school. If the grades aren't good enough, know in your household what the consequences will be.

Q: Do you do standards-based grading like at Justice Page?
Dr. Emily Palmer: To an extent. It is an IB school, so you're not going to see the traditional percentages. But the key thing to know is that vast majority of a grade is based on assessment. There is homework, there is classwork, there is participation, but the vast majority of the grade is what you learned.

Q: Can students do retakes and makeups?
Dr. Emily Palmer: In many cases, yes. It depends on the class and the teacher.

Michelle Terpening: And it's all very explicit. You'll know very clearly what the expectations of each teacher are.

Washburn Parent Council: They all do a syllabus that I found to be super helpful. I did check the portal. A lot of times I'd check it and keep it to myself. Sometimes I'd check it and she already knew. The best thing for my daughter was learning time management skills and learning to advocate for herself. I don't email teachers. She has to figure out how to retake her tests or resolve issues with her grades. That's helpful, because I'm a bit Type A when it comes to that kind of stuff. I don't like when there are missing assignments on the portal; it makes me crazy. So I've had to let that go. But time management has been key, especially the AP Human Geography Class. It's a great class and they learn a lot. It's really interesting, but it's a lot of homework. The second week, she said she didn't want to take the class. But she stayed with it and learned so much about managing projects and her time. It's a lot of notes, and she had to come up with a system. She showed us that she could do a college level class.

Q: What happens if a student starts a class that is too hard or too easy?
Dr. Emily Palmer: If you're in the wrong Spanish class, then we're going to switch that pretty quickly. If it's a matter of too easy, we're going to look into where is the differentiated challenge we expect at Washburn, and if it's too hard, we're going to look into differentiated support that we provide at Washburn. It's very much a conversation with the teacher to work it out. Because if it's not a pathway issue, then it should be a workable thing. One thing we do see is kids who had an easier time earning an A in middle school now having to work harder in a high school IB class to get a B. I've had those calls. But we want people to know that a B in an advanced math class is a perfectly fine thing. Yes, it's hard, and you can't always get that A that you're used to because it's a really rigorous class, and that's OK. It's always a conversation with the teacher about what a student needs in a particular class.

Erin Rathke: I would also offer the idea that we need to help students understand that classes matter immediately in high school. Their grades affect their GPA right away. They need to know that your first quarter of your freshman year is an indication of what graduation is going to look like. Not being a helicopter mom is important; however, I want to have gradual release because that first quarter freshman year is really important. If they are struggling, we need to be able to support them at home and help them become strong advocates who can manage all these things for themselves. It's one of the hardest transition years you will have in your educational careers.

Q: Do advanced 8th grade math classes count towards high school GPA?
Carolyn Cottingham:
For students taking intermediate algebra and geometry as eighth graders, you do get high school credit for that class but it doesn't count towards your GPA. You start with a fresh GPA in ninth grade. It counts towards your three required math credits, but your counselor will push you to take more.

Michelle Terpening: We encourage all our students to take four years of math and science.

Dr. Emily Palmer: Every kid is different, and you will get your whole rhythm at home around that. Introverts need a whole different type of support than extroverts. How students like to study and organize themselves varies.

Erin Rathke: In middle school, we have kids do binders, which is developmentally important. But what we want for parents to do is bridge those skills to high school. In high school, they will give you a planner, but you need to manage it. Those skill sets we learn here are supposed to bridge over. Social Emotional Learning management is happening in Crew, and part of that is doing planner checks and learning how to self advocate with an adult. We're very deliberate about our SEL instructions, and that is part of it.

Q: What is your phone policy?
Dr. Emily Palmer: We do not have phones out in class at all. If we see them in class, we will bag and tag them. We do allow them during passing time and at lunch. In middle school you have to keep them in your locker during the day, but with students who have jobs and more responsibilities, we do make sure that they have phone access in between. Students take it seriously, and it's nice. Because getting back to community, we have to be face to face and work together without the screen getting in the way. We do have Chromebook carts in just about every room.

Q: Can you retake tests during lunch?
9th graders: The majority of retakes take place after school.

Q: What is the bathroom pass policy?
Dr. Emily Palmer: The passes are in the planner, similar to here. You have a certain number per quarter, so you need to be judicious, but since you have five minutes in between classes, students can use that time.

Q: Ninth graders, how long did it take you to learn your way around the school?
9th graders: To be honest, I still don't know the room numbers. I just know where the rooms are. But it's pretty similar to middle school. Once you know where your classroom is, you get into a rhythm. Another thing that makes it easier is that in high school you have the science wing, the math wing. All the classes are in the same spots.

Q: What is lunch time like in 9th grade?
9th graders: We don't get to leave, so it's basically like it is here. School lunch is actually pretty good. You have one lunch period that is the same the whole year. Fourth hour determines who you eat lunch with, and it's mixed grade. The layout is different—some booths, some tables.

Michelle Terpening: We were actually one of the first pilot schools in the district to get a full kitchen, so everything is made fresh at Washburn. We get all locally grown, Minnesota fruits and vegetables. We have fresh quinoa, a salad bar all the time, three different options, whole grain pastas. It's really amazing. There are always options to accommodate dietary restrictions or allergies. Everything is labeled.

Q: Ninth graders, what was the most intimidating part of starting high school, and what’s your favorite part now?
9th grader: Getting to know the building was hard, but you get used to it after a week. The best part is that it feels like you're going with your friends to the next school. It makes the transition a lot easier.

9th grader: My favorite part was the sports. The most intimidating part was finding a seat at lunch.

Q: How long is lunch?
Dr. Emily Palmer:
Half an hour.

Q: What about sports not affiliated with MPS? How do students get to off-campus practices after school?
9th graders: In my experience with soccer we would practice at Pearl, and there were groups of kids who would leave and go to that location, and we would walk or bike there.

Parent: Ultimate Frisbee, for example, is an independent sport that isn't supported by the district, so it's technically not a Washburn sport. They don't even call themselves the Millers; they’re the Wolfpack. Parents pay for coaching. They will usually carpool, walk or cycle together to the field where they practice.

Dr. Emily Palmer: We have three independents, and it gets a little confusing because they call themselves Washburn, and they can because it's mostly Washburn students. Ultimate Frisbee, Trap Shooting, and Mountain Biking are all out there with Washburn students participating, but some are mixed with kids from other schools. But because they aren't recognized by the State High School League, they aren't recognized by the district, so they aren't a school sport per se. But we celebrate them and still love them!

Michelle Terpening: If practice is off campus, we'll make sure you get there.

Dr. Emily Palmer: Every week, there is a sports schedule that goes out to the staff that says which teams have to do what when so they know if there is an early release. Teachers will help you work it out.

Q: Are there opportunities for parents to help in the classroom?
Washburn Parent Council: The kids don’t really want you there. We do have a handout with some opportunities. The biggest thing for volunteering is Erica Lebens-Englund, our parent liaison who isn't here tonight. She's amazing to work with. She sends out a weekly email every Friday. If you read it, you'll find out how to help with teacher dinners, how to help with dances, when tests and deadlines are, tryouts, sports. It's long, but it's super important to read it. The College and Career Center also sends out an email. Parent Council has a website. We are open to ideas. Washburn Cares came out of parents saying they want to support kids who need extra help. They have a gift card drive and have a closet of supplies for those in need. They do a lot of behind the scenes during the holidays. This all helps our homeless and highly mobile students. We do a book fair and a plant sale. A lot of our money goes to help with the senior party. We have a landscaping team and Miller Mart. If you're interested in Miller Mart, sign up right away because it's hard to get in. The Washburn Arts Council also does a lot of stuff. They have a big adults only night with an auction where choirs and bands perform. It helps raise money for things like risers. We need parents to help do school tours and sit at AP/IB tests. We do teacher appreciation events. It's everything except working in your student's classroom!

Q: What's the most common mistake freshmen make and how can they avoid making that mistake?
9th graders: The idea of zero hour sounds great, but you should set your alarm for 6:30 for a week straight and see if you can actually get up at that time.

Dr. Emily Palmer: I would say the biggest mistake is not taking yourself seriously. Because every day, you make choices that determine what doors open to you in high school. For our kids graduating, some have many more doors open to them. And that is entirely based on the choices they make. Take yourself and your future seriously. It's easy to not do that as a freshman.

Michelle Terpening: It's important to know what's expected of you from each teacher.

Q: What is your ELL program like?
Dr. Emily Palmer: We have a really rich ELL program in terms of staffing, and we do a lot of pushing into classes rather than pulling out. We do a lot of collaboration, so there are a lot of classes where you'll see two teachers. Our students are getting the mainstream education and support simultaneously. We do also have classes for newcomers; we are a full service site, so students don't have to have any English to start at Washburn. We have students who run the gamut in terms of English skills. We also have language support for families. We have two full time staff, one who speaks Spanish and one who speaks Somali, who do help in classrooms and also help families with whatever is needed.

Washburn Parent Council: We also have a Spanish parent group and a Somali parent group.

Dr. Emily Palmer: They hold meetings in their home language. I'm there and have their meetings translated for me.

Q: You mentioned there are Chromebooks in class. Are there any recommendations as to what technology students should have access to at home?
Michelle Terpening: We don't have a formal recommendation. It's helpful to have a computer at home, but our teachers are sensitive enough to know that not all students have access to one, so it doesn't have to be a barrier. We do have extended media hours for students to access computers and tutoring. We have a program in place where students who qualify for educational benefits can check out a Chromebook on a short-term basis if they have an assignment they need to work on.

9th graders: Only a few students actually bring their laptops to school. It's really a minimal bonus because you have Chromebook access at school. My teacher will always give time in class to finish assignments, but it's a matter of how you use your time.

Dr. Emily Palmer: It's great if a student has a computer at home, but I don’t recommend bringing it back and forth. It just presents too much risk.

Washburn Parent Council: And it doesn't have to be an expensive computer. There may also be some educational benefits that can help get some inexpensive Internet access at home, and I'm sure the social workers at Washburn could help a student check into that.

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