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Realizing Student Potential

Carren PoffCarren Poff is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts in school turnaround.

I am honored and humbled to be a White House Champion of Change on behalf of Ontario High School (OHS) in Ontario, Oregon. Growing up, loving and supportive family members encouraged education, service, and a good work ethic. They taught me to push myself, to try new things, and to set and achieve goals. It was their examples that helped me develop a deep love of learning, serving others, and finding worth in everyone. Those influences have shaped who I am today: a young teacher with an unquenchable desire for every student to feel a sense of worth and to feel confident about abilities and options in life. I want them to realize their potential.

The students of Ontario School District are faced with significant challenges that influence self-confidence, ability to focus, and ability to stay in school until graduation. Our county is the poorest in the state of Oregon. With high migrant and English language learner populations, many do not have adequate resources outside of the classroom and have little to no support from families due to the lack of higher education; students are pressured to drop out of school to provide for basic family needs. As nationwide budget cuts reduce school and district resources, the roles of individual teachers become more vital. Our students are bright, caring, and talented—we, as teachers, have the monumental task of helping them pull away defensive masks so they can seize educational opportunities.

I have been blessed with many opportunities to learn and grow as a teacher. One of the top priorities of our English department is to raise expectations and achievement levels for each student—ensuring readiness upon entering the global economy. We strive to challenge them and let them know we are confident they can achieve. To help scaffold our high expectations, we completed several integral tasks. We redesigned the English 9-12 proficiency-based curriculum founded on the nationwide common core standards. We aided in the creation and teaching of Freshman Success—a newly implemented course designed to teach organizational and foundational skills to help freshmen stay on-track for graduation, as well as to introduce them to a variety of college and career opportunities. Additionally, we initiated and taught the Language! curriculum—a reading and writing intervention that explicitly teaches the building blocks of the English language, while simultaneously aiding in building student academic success and confidence. We created a senior reading and writing intervention course to help meet the Oregon diploma requirements, and redesigned the honors and college credit English programs to ensure college-level work, and to help students be more competitive and prepared for higher educational opportunities. 

The results from these curriculum changes, interventions, and programs have not only been evidenced by increases of 10 to 20 percentage points in state assessment scores while significantly closing achievement gaps, but students have begun to believe in themselves. One student in my senior reading course, after learning and applying the appropriate reading strategies, was able to pass her state test. She became overwhelmed with emotion and told me she never believed she had the ability to pass. A college education was an unachievable dream for her, but she is currently enrolled in fall term at Treasure Valley Community College. I will continue to work alongside administration, OHS colleagues, and fellow department members to ensure each student discovers and unleashes personal potential.

Carren Poff is the English Department chair for Ontario High School.