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More students making the grade at iGrad

Carol Cleveland, iGrad principal, keeps her door open to students and offers one-on-one guidance. - Michelle Conerly, Kent Reporter
Carol Cleveland, iGrad principal, keeps her door open to students and offers one-on-one guidance.
— image credit: Michelle Conerly, Kent Reporter

"Welcome! Are you here for class today?"

One by one, each student checks in at the front desk, takes a seat in front of a laptop and begins learning.

For students completing the Kent School District diploma track through the new iGrad program, this is what their classroom looks like.

The iGrad academy is a district program funded by the state in partnership with the Kent School District and Green River Community College (GRCC) that offers students 16-21 years old the ability to earn credits toward one of three program tracks. Students also may choose to earn a Washington state diploma or a GED certificate.

This individualized learning model is structured to cater to the students' unique needs.

"At the iGrad site each student is taking the subjects they need to graduate – whatever they are credit deficient in," said Catherine Cantrell, interim dean of instruction – language, academic skills, and wellness at GRCC.

At of the beginning of January, around 460 students were enrolled in the iGrad program, but according to Principal Carol Cleveland, 12 to 14 students are added daily, making the actual number of students much higher.

Before enrolling, every student meets with Cleveland for a one-on-one session to address the student's educational needs and goals. Then, the choice is his or hers as to which track would satisfy those needs.

For the students who choose the GED track, professors come to the iGrad site at 25668 104th Ave. SE, Kent, and students are expected to attend class four days a week in order to prepare for the GED test. For the students who choose to earn a Kent School District diploma, they must attend class for three hours once a week at the iGrad site. The other 12 required hours per week are to be completed remotely via a computer.

For students choosing the Washington state diploma track, they are able to attend GRCC classes on campus. Students are also able to earn college credit while still earning high school credits.

"We consider iGrad students Green River Community College students," Cantrell said. "We encourage them to be a part of the college. The whole benefit of iGrad is that students can transition to college."

To the couple thousand students in the Kent School District that were eligible to participate, a team of administrators sent out postcards informing them of their eligibility. For every postcard that was sent back expressing interest, the administrators called every student to meet with Cleveland and to begin the process of enrollment.

Many of the students who choose to participate in the iGrad program have dropped out of school or never re-enrolled in school for many reasons. Part of Cleveland's job is to address those issues and make learning as accessible as possible for the students in this program.

"I try to remove all the barriers I can," Cleveland said. "My day is filled with figuring out what they need."

From bus passes and reduced childcare services to paying for their first two years of at GRCC, Cleveland has set up funds that allow her to be a "barrier remover" for the students in the iGrad program that qualify for these options.

Students do not have to live within the boundaries of the Kent School District to enroll in the iGrad program, yet if they choose to participate, they must abide by the school district rules. The interest in the program has grown so much that Cleveland has received calls from other districts and even other states as to how this model of education is working out for the students.

Not all the kinks are worked out yet, though. With only five teachers and two counselors, the minimal staffing makes it difficult at times for Cleveland. She is looking to hire an assistant principal to help organize and supervise the program.

For the students who choose to earn a Kent School District diploma, there is little to no social aspect of the program. For some students, the lack of socializing is welcomed, but for others, they miss the traditional classroom setting.

At any time, students can choose to leave the program or return to the program. For the older students who enroll, they must finish one of the three tracks before exceeding the age requirement.

Although in some cases, Cleveland must turn potential students away for lack of eligibility reasons, she strives to accommodate as many students as she can and enable them to reach their goals.

"I'm on a get your skills, get it done system," said Cleveland. "It's tough, (but) this is the dream job. Exciting and challenging."

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