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TechCHAT: District Director Jeanne Willard on Graduation Alliance

Graduation Alliance has released a white paper revealing significant economic benefits to helping working-age adults achieve a high school diploma. Considering the difference in taxes paid and public services used between graduates and non-graduates, the new analysis identifies a $7.4 trillion high school diploma gap. The white paper also outlines several research-based recommendations for programs looking to reengage working-age adults. 


Currently, the white paper reports that roughly 24.8 million working-age Americans don’t have high school diplomas. Those lacking high school diplomas use an average of $70,000 more in public services than taxes paid in their lifetimes, the white paper says. On the other end, those with high school diplomas provide an average of $230,000 more than what they receive from taxes in a lifetime. If every student were to graduate with a full K-12 education, the economic benefit would be over $7 trillion in government savings.


Jeanne Willard is the director of on-time graduation at Everett School District in Snohomish County, Washington. Before, she was a classroom educator for ten years, entering into administration after her experience.  She discussed Graduation Alliance, the technology behind their program, research, and more on the benefits of having a high school diploma, with Education World. 



From your view, why aren’t many of the “alternative programs” for dropout prevention and recovery for at-risk students currently working? 


Most of these programs don’t target the reason why kids are leaving school. We have an alternative high school that works for some students, but a program like Graduation Alliance addresses a more specific set of students, like students with social anxiety or ones with their own families for whom they need to work and provide childcare. It allows a greater amount of flexibility for these students to earn their diploma. 


In your experience, what made Graduation Alliance a successful approach to reengaging students?


Graduation Alliance is a partnership. We aren’t sending students to another program or school and losing administrative oversight of them, but allowing students to stay in contact with the school, educators and adults they have learned to trust. It is a hybrid. It’s not about the curriculum alone, there are a lot of personal touches. The students themselves are connected to each other and the school, local advocates and tutors are very involved in the program.


Describe the combination of accessible online courses and layered social-emotional supports that Graduation Alliance offers. 


Graduation Alliance provides an academic coach that is constantly connected to the goals of students, as well as a local advocate who creates a relationship with each student. Part of what the students enjoy is the capacity to connect with the other students in the program. The layered part of Graduation Alliance includes the educators and counselors at the school who are still involved in the lives of the students. 


How did Graduation Alliance directly work with your district in increasing graduation rates? 


We have specific legislation in Washington state that allows us to have students involved in Graduation Alliance. Our legislation 1418 is for reengaging dropouts. It allows students to come back to school and the state accounts for graduation rates. Here at Everett, we’ve had five kids graduate from Graduation Alliance who would not have if not for the program. 


In order to access Graduation Alliance, and the over 200 standards-aligned courses that they offer online, students use internet-ready Chromebooks that they’re provided with. Who’s providing them and how is this funded? Is every student required to use the provided Chromebooks, or are there other means of access for the core population of users?  


The laptops are a core part of our program. They are paid for out of 1418 legislation. Our partnership with Graduation Alliance includes the purchases of services, courses, local advocate, academic coach and technology. 


The asynchronous programs allow students to accelerate through areas in which they excel and spend extra time on subjects with which they struggle. How does this timeframe work, and how does this help better align students with a path to graduation? 


Everything is personalized. Students can move very quickly through courses they have comfort in. As long as students reach the benchmark of a quarter credit each month they stay in the program. Whether it is an area that a student excels or struggles in, the program sets it up so they get guidance and support along the way to make sure they are on track. With that, two or three classes in a month would be considered a fast pace while one or two is the norm. 


When students complete state and local graduation requirements through the programs, they earn a high school diploma opposed to a GED. Is this applicable nationwide? Were there any issues with students receiving their diplomas after they put in the work? 


Yes, this is applicable nationwide. No, there weren’t any issues with students receiving their diplomas after they put in the work. The students receive a high school diploma through summer graduation. 


Graduation Alliance also offers an extensive network of wraparound, localized support. The network includes local advocates, who regularly meet with students in person to provide social and emotional support; academic coaches, who guide and motivate students; professional online tutors; and licensed teachers. Who was most helpful in terms of support? Who was most attentive?


Our local advocate has been a great partner in this work. Students know her, respect her and she is most accessible to our students. Our educators in the school also reach out and follow up with students to make sure they are on track to graduate. They are all extremely helpful and enable our students to succeed. 


Are there any associated costs for Graduation Alliance, and/or their extensive network of support?


There are some additional costs required with the additional infrastructure as well as other employees. I spend a lot of time organizing, making sure the students are in the system, and we have a process in place to create recruiting lists to find dropouts (these costs are implicit to building a program). There aren’t direct costs to teaching the students, but overhead costs. 



For more on Graduation Alliance, and their white paper, visit here



Article by Jason Papallo, Education World Social Media Editor

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