Students Deserve a Chance; Not an Excuse

We have all been there. It started with multiple conversations about failure lists, student success, motivation, and how we get students to increase their success without doing one of the following:

  1. Give failing students an elevated grade (say a 55) at the end of the first semester just so they have a numerical chance of passing for the year.
  2. Give failing students the actual grade and telling them that they must continue to work even though they need a near perfect (if even that) average to squeak by and pass for the year.

The first goes against the point of education (not to mention ethics) while the second flies in the face of growth and the mindset that must accompany it.  Either way, the teacher is left with an unmotivated (and at times a behavioral issue) student who has not benefited from the time spent in class. Did I forget to mention…it’s only January!


After speaking as grade level teams to share wise practices and discussing how to support students so that they have hope as long as they commit, but still gain the required knowledge to be successful moving forward; we came up with a creative solution: Winter School

It works like this:

Students would be assigned the units of study they had failed during the first semester by the teacher of that class.  These units were then loaded into a curriculum plan for them by the Winter School Coordinator.  Once they had completed all the assigned units (within the prescribed time-frame), the failing grade students had earned would be adjusted to reflect a “65”, which is the lowest grade possible before receiving an “F”.  This reflects their knowledge of the needed concepts to move forward and offers them the numerical possibility of passing for the year.

start now

Here are the nuts and bolts:

Duration: 6 Weeks

We wanted to mirror the duration of summer school.  That is not to say that if a student was close, but there was an issue, we wouldn’t give a little extra time.  There was a definite cutoff though.  We wanted to give students a chance, not a reason to procrastinate.  Students had to attend our session for office detention three out of the four days it was held.  This wasn’t a punishment.  Rather it was for supervision and assistance while they used the computers that were made available.  Their attendance and progress was monitored by the Winter School Coordinator.  They would be called in for individual conferences if they missed a session or were not progressing as required.

Entrance Criteria: Students must possess an average in the range of 55-62.

We decided on this range for a few reasons.  First, students must carry a 55 to be eligible for summer school.  We decided to mirror that while setting a high mark at 62 for two separate reasons.  First, if the student is over 62 they have the ability to pass for the year. Second, we didn’t want the program to be used in an attempt to elevate a grade for the sake of a higher grade. We also addressed that by only allowing a final grade of “65”..

Exit Criteria: Students must complete all the required units assigned by the classroom teacher.

Once the student completed all of the units, their grade was adjusted to a “65” and they were finished with the program.  Most students took the length of the program to complete it because they were still responsible for their second semester work.

Required Resources:

Student Fee

We decided to charge a nominal fee for the program. It cost students $25.00 each.  We covered any economic hardship there was for students.  The point was not to collect money, but encourage success through perseverance.


Someone must act as a coordinator to set students up on the virtual learning program. This takes time and effort.  We used a guidance counselor to fill this position and paid them a stipend from the amount we charged the students. It seemed appropriate to offer it to guidance counselors first.  We would have offered it to the rest of staff had it not been taken.

Virtual Learning Program

You can use any of the programs available. We happen to use Edgenuity.  We already have a plan with them and it works well for us.  We had previously tested its use in summer school and for a world language option.


This is on a few levels.  This was a voluntary program for all involved.  Teachers had to provide the materials and accept the terms only if they thought it would benefit. Students had to commit to the time and complete the requirements.

success trajectory

Interventions for students only work if everyone “buys in”.  Teachers, parents, and guardians cannot work harder than the student and still expect success.  This initiative did two main things (besides the academic piece) for students.

  1. It offered the structure students often need to get work done and put the opportunity for success in their hands.
  2. It built an awareness that actions have consequences, but they do not always have to be final or fatal.

The final result:

  • Of the students who initially accepted the opportunity, 71% were successful for the rest of the year.  They passed the class by completing Winter School and passing the second semester.
  • Of the students who committed to the program and its requirements, 83% were successful for the rest of the year.  They passed the class by completing Winter School and passing the second semester.

An unexpected consequence:

  • Summer School enrollment (and need) has been greatly reduced (approximately 50%) this year.

Ask the question, be creative, and let go of the reasons why something cannot be done.  Instead ask how it can be done and move forward.  Is this initiative perfect? No, but it sure is a start that has addressed our issue by assisting students in moving forward by giving them opportunity and holding them accountable.  We most often get surprised when we trust in the ability of others instead of assuming their limits.

I welcome your thoughts, comments, and ways you have creatively solved problems.

2 thoughts on “Students Deserve a Chance; Not an Excuse

  1. Denise Jones-Gagne

    I’m glad you shared your end result, after having heard about the idea in its infancy. Well done, Dr. Jones and all involved.


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