Lesson #3: Working on Grit, Goals, and Graduation at Northside High

Northside students will participate in a “School-wide student conference where students choose to visit college or career sessions of their choice in preparation for [life] beyond high school.” 

Northside High School’s School of Innovation Plan, 2017

The mission of Northside High School is the “relentless pursuit of high levels of learning for all students and adults alike.” In their Vision 2023, the Fort Smith School District pledges to be a premier “district where innovation creates excellence, is dedicated to providing an equitable, challenging educational experience by engaging families and community partners as [they] prepare students to embrace their roles in [their] culturally diverse community and rapidly changing world.” Northside High School is a prime example of innovation serving students and family, in collaboration with community. 

Northside High School began working toward designation as a School of Innovation during the 2018-2019 school year and I had the opportunity to work with their team as an innovation design liaison. When Dr. Kerri Rathbun, Northside principal, told me about the Grit, Goals, and Graduation Day, I knew I had to make it a point to return, and see this initiative in action with their students. So… I invited myself back!

I immersed myself in the conference. Staff and students were eager to share the impact this conference had on them personally. I was impressed by their enthusiasm! I was also in awe of the engagement of so many people from the community in the conference. Classrooms were full of volunteers, sharing candidly about their careers, offering life lessons, and providing practical information about their career path. Read on to learn more!

Northside is a highly diverse school. Over the last ten years, the demographics have changed dramatically, resulting in not a single race representing over 50% of the population. Northside is on a mission to “overcome the constraints of a traditional school environment” and is implementing “innovative and creative solutions to obstacles that impede students’ engagement and learning.” One strategy is an annual student conference. This conference supports career and college exposure and encourages students to graduate on-time, prepped for their future.

The conference, aptly named “Grit, Goals and Graduation”, took place on Tuesday, March 26th. It included a powerful keynote by Dr. Adolph Brown and a catered lunch for students. Over 90 local and regional volunteers were involved in breakout sessions for students including local business leaders and owners, college representatives, and community members and leaders. Among the sessions offered were several on specific “life skills” as requested by students: filing taxes, applying for jobs, and changing a tire and the oil in your car, to name a few.

Because students help design the day, and offer feedback to improve after every conference, there is a real sense of student ownership for this initiative. Students and administrators agreed that tailoring the day based on student needs and interests and matching requests with local and regional community resources, was key to a felt sense of ownership. The conference, entering its 4th year in 2020, continues to grow and improve thanks to students, teachers, administration, and community support.

In addition to the annual conference, Northside supports “Grit, Goals, and Graduation” throughout the year by offering twenty “completion pathways” for students. Working with their advisor and counselor, students are encouraged to choose a pathway that “aligns with their personal career goals” and courses within the offered programs introduce students to “the skills necessary to be successful in those careers.” Students are awarded a completer certification upon graduating with required courses in a chosen program. 

If you are looking to inspire, challenge, expose, and support your students on their personal paths to future success, consider some of Northside’s community-based and future-focused strategies!

  • Identify your student, family, and community needs!
  • Include your students and community in conversations, planning, reflecting, and improving!
  • Match needs to resources and think outside the box!
  • Integrate this work with your community’s vision for graduates!