The Kingston High School Class of 2022 graduated in a ceremony at Dietz Stadium last week, and according to officials, the school year showed the resilience of not only its seniors, but students of all ages.
“These students returned to in-person learning in September and successfully navigated a year of change, transition, and transformation,” said KHS Principal Vince DeCicco during a presentation to the Board of Education held on June 15.
DeCicco and other KHS administrators spoke about how far the school has come, not only since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic over two years ago, but even further back.
“Our goal is students being ready for college or a successful career…whether it be SUNY Ulster, MIT, a local restaurant owner, or a hall monitor. Kingston High School’s graduation rate has greatly improved over the years, and this is something that the entire Kingston City School District community feels proud about.”
New York State bases its graduation rate on a four-year cohort, meaning the percentage of students who entered 9th grade together and received a diploma four years later. Those figures aren’t finalized until August to allow those completing their graduation requirements over the summer to be included, the KHS has routinely surpassed the 80 percent mark over the past few years.
Kingston High’s graduation rate for the 2020-21 school year was 83 percent, the most recent year compiled by the state. That’s up from 81.5 percent in 2018-19, and 80.7 percent in 2017-18. The KHS graduation rate was 68.6 percent in June of 2012. The following year, that number leaped to 74.9 percent, followed by another climb to 77.4 percent in June of 2014. In 2015 it reached 82.45 percent, and has hovered around that figure ever since. The district is projecting that the overall graduation rate will be between 81-84 percent for the Class of 2022.
But while the overall and many subgroup-specific graduation rates have risen, the district is still struggling with its English language learners (ELL). While a projection of 39 percent of ELL students graduating is an improvement over the 23 percent one year ago, school officials are focusing on trying to ensure a far greater percentage will graduate in the future.
“We know our ELL students are our biggest challenge,” said DeCicco.
The district recently hired a social worker, a guidance counselor, family worker, and a second teacher, all with an ELL focus.
“We now have a team of professionals that can focus on the ELL population,” DeCicco said.
The ELL team met over the course of the 2021-22 school year to discuss goals and the means to achieve them, which include providing resources to its ELL students to help them achieve success, a process that’s worked in the past for other subgroups of students.
DeCicco said that an important component of academic success is a sense of belonging, as true for ELL students as any other. But first, they have to get those students through the door.
“We all know that attendance…is an issue in schools, and we need the students to be here to be successful,” DeCicco said. “ELL students who feel displaced from coming from different countries definitely need more of that support.”
That was particularly a challenge in 2021-22 after many months of remote learning, and not just for ELL students.
“The pandemic caused students to miss the true high school experience with band, musicals, sports and all extracurricular activities,” DeCicco said. “We were glad to see these events return stronger than ever.”
There has also been a stronger sense of community than ever before over the past couple of challenging years, DeCicco said, and the hope is that it will continue into the future.
“During the pandemic, everyone in our building stepped up and took on additional new responsibilities in order for us to survive,” he said. “Our school monitors created and implemented a hallway direction plan that was very successful. Modifying on the go was the new norm, and our school monitors also became experts at COVID-19 test kit distribution. One particular monitor…can single-handedly operate a successful drive-through test kit distribution of over 1000 test kits by herself, and it would be done flawlessly.”
Popular music technology class
Assistant Principal Rolando Briceño also discussed a sense of belonging through the lens of a visit to a recent music technology class at Kingston High.
“I walked into a class where students were finalizing their final projects,” Briceño said. “It was the capstone to a yearlong process of building their portfolio.”
In speaking to the students, Briceño discovered that they were writing an original song while mashing up various projects during the school year.
“It’s one cohesive work…basically deconstructing a song and, and putting together a different beat or different type of backing music, scoring a short film clip or creating a video. So why have I chosen to share this with you tonight? Well, it really represents the collaborative and supportive effort from the (School) Board to the student level.”
Briceño explained that the teacher of the class, Mr. Richter, not only keeps up with technological training, but also best teaching practices and pop culture trends. Music technology has become popular, and not just with the students who take the course.
“There have been times in the last couple months that I’ve just gone from work to Mr. Richter’s studio, just visiting, sometimes after school, and I find it filled with groups of students and they’re in the studio, they are laying down tracks, working on rhymes, new beats, maybe working on podcasts,” Briceño said. “And some of those kids are not even his students. They just kind of heard through word of mouth that, ‘Hey, there’s this teacher and he’s got like this amazing studio; let’s go in and record some stuff.’ And that’s just like a perfect example of a connection that he’s made. It’s a sense of belonging. It’s giving the students a safe place to be, a creative place, a non-judgment zone.”
Briceño said school officials are looking into the success Mr. Richter has had in the hopes of figuring out how to apply that sense of belonging to other classes as well.