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Graduate high school with cash in your pocket

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) The start of a new school year can be stressful. But a group of entering freshmen at Hillcrest High will start school this week confident and already familiar with their teachers and with some cash in their pockets.Hillcrest Assistant Principal Rachel Hill joined Good Morning Utah with Brian Carlson to tell us about this innovative program. 

It’s a summer school program for entering freshmen, but it’s not your regular summer school. It’s far more rigorous, and more successful – it’s helped Hillcrest realize a 10 percent gain in the number of ninth-graders on track to graduate – and completing the program earns students up to $400 in cash.

The program, which is made possible through funding from the United Way of Salt Lake, has earned Canyons District national recognition and is now being implemented at Jordan High School.

The idea behind the Husky Strong Academy is to give incoming ninth graders a jump on their first “make or break” year of high school. Research shows that students perform in the first months of their freshman year can determine whether they excel and graduate. So, in the summer of 2016, we worked with the middle schools that feed into Hillcrest to identify students who would most likely benefit from 30 days of daily instruction in math, science, English and geography.

Enrollees have to forgo their summer breaks, but those who complete the coursework start school with a quarter of an elective credit under their belts. They are also eligible for cash incentives of up to $400 subsidized by the United Way of Greater Salt Lake.

The money is a way to remove barriers to attendance. Many of these kids have responsibilities at home, and summer jobs, and we’re asking them to put those on hold to attend school while their friends are out enjoying the pool or on family vacations. The first year 47 of 80 enrollees completed the program, and this year, we had XX percent completion rate.

The money is an incentive to stick it out, but if you ask students what they value most about the program, they’ll tell you it’s the feeling of accomplishment they have as they realize they have what it takes to excel in high school. They start school having established firm relationships with their teachers and other adults who care about them.

Hillcrest continues to meet weekly with these students throughout their high school careers to monitor progress and set new academic goals.

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