Washougal’s new building provides space for personalized education

Washougal, WA – The new Excelsior Building at Washougal High School is preparing to open its doors this school year with a fresh approach to programs that provide specialized support for students to succeed academically and graduate on time.  This new vision was developed by a group of teachers, counselors, community members, career specialists and administrators who began meeting in Fall of 2016.

Two programs emerged that will help provide more personalized support for students at different stages of their high school careers.  They are the Freshman Academy and Excelsior “On Track.”

“Research indicates that freshmen who fall behind spend the rest of their high school career trying to catch up,” said Mark Castle, WHS Associate Principal.  “Education is not a one size fits all formula and we are providing opportunities to meet the learning needs of all of our students and build a model supporting freshman through some of the challenges of the transition to high school.” These include the transitions between classes, greater work load, higher expectations for independent study and the reduction in instructional support as compared to the middle school setting.

“Students in this program will have classes in flexible blocks of time and smaller learning communities that allows for both individual and group instruction,” Castle explained.  “We will engage students with more hands on learning practices and will focus on connecting our academic content to community and real world issues providing more context for the course work.”

According to Castle, “The goal is to provide a positive and supportive freshmen experience for students and put them on the right track at the start of their high school career.”  With the credit requirement increase by the State of Washington for graduation, it is critical for freshmen to succeed their first year for on time graduation.

Freshman Academy will also offer additional field trips and guest speakers as well as project-based learning of core academic skills through a team teaching interdisciplinary approach, for instance connecting science or math project instruction with teaching writing skills.  “It is all about building a culture of confident students who thrive in a collaborative team environment as well as through independent learning,” Castle said.

Excelsior On Track will provide a different learning opportunity for students who have struggled in the traditional educational settings.  “This program creates a learning ‘family’ and will focus on juniors and seniors that have some credit deficiency.  We want to prepare these students for what’s next in their lives and also get them to graduation,” Castle explained.

On Track will engage students with hands-on, project-based learning and focus on personalized pathways based on each student’s interests, needs, and previous knowledge. They will be presented with cross curriculum learning tasks that require them to collaborate with others, think critically, problem-solve, and manage their progress.  “Every student will have an educational coach who knows them personally, supports them in setting and reaching their academic and post-secondary goals,” Castle said.  The WHS Career Center will help direct course work that provides these students with career bound learning.

“WHS is growing and the Excelsior high school program offers us the ability to meet the personalized needs of high school students,” Castle explained.  “We will not only house the Freshman Academy and On Track programs here, but will also offer students an Advanced Placement Culinary course and potentially some AP Science courses in the future.”  More information about Freshman Academy and On Track can be found under academic programs on the WHS website at www.washougal.k12.wa.us/whs/

The new $4.8 million Excelsior Building was made possible by voter support of the February 2015 school facility bond.  It replaced worn out and outdated portable classrooms. A ceremony to celebrate the new facility and give the community a look inside will be held Tuesday, Sept 12 from 5-6 p.m. in conjunction with the WHS open house.