Merrillville High ranks as a national model school
By Carole Carlson email@example.com/312-701-4271 May 6, 2013 4:14PM
Merrillville High School senior Jordan Reaves drops off a new box of placemats touting the success of Merrilville Schools diversity with Mike Wilkey at Maxim Restaurant Thursday afternoon. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 8, 2013 12:11PM
MERRILLVILLE — Merrillville High doesn’t hide its accomplishments. Walk in the main entrance and an enlarged version of the school’s recent straight-A state report card greets visitors. Another banner highlights the school’s 90 percent graduation rate.
The success isn’t by chance. Associate Principal Lorri Covaciu credits an effort supported with a five-year, $5 million federal grant aimed at improving achievement. Covaciu has spearheaded the Small Learning Communities grant since its inception.
Merrillville’s innovation led to its recent selection as one of 16 model schools by the International Center for Leadership in Education. Covaciu will present a session detailing the school’s success at a conference in Maryland in July.
Covaciu said the project focused on incoming freshman, providing them with older student mentors, who in many cases became friends and guiding lights.
It also challenged teachers to ratchet up their lessons, challenging students with higher level thinking problems and an emphasis on real-life skills.
Academically, students are challenged with improving weaknesses such as answering open-ended questions that are becoming staples in assessments.
Students are also exposed to college and career planning regularly.
The program began with 560 freshmen in 2009 and has expanded as the students move up a grade and younger students arrive.
Government teacher Dan Schoon said it was easy to tap into real-life examples in his classes. “We talked about local information, people getting into office, taxes.”
Business teacher Rae Lopez said students were constantly reminded of the virtues of being responsible and accountable. “Some students though it was corny and at times you wondered if they got it. But then we started seeing that light go on. ... It’s much more than academics.”
A big part of the program calls for older students to mentor the freshmen. Mentors must fill out an application before they’re accepted.
Mentors Kiera Shackleford, 16, and Ryan Neal, 17, both recognized benefits from helping freshman navigated a new high school.
“We taught about respecting your elders and respecting yourself. We try to push them in the right direction,” said Shackleford.
“I like telling freshmen what they’ll come up against,” said Neal, who had a mentor himself when he was a freshman.
Neal said many freshman have problems with math and ask for help. “I can point them to a teacher or to another student,” he said.
As the federal grant elapses, Covaciu said Merrillville school officials decided to sustain it on their own.
She’ll oversee it next year in her new central office role as director of secondary curriculum and instruction. She said the district hopes to expand it to Pierce Middle School.