Eagle Valley Middle School.
Principal Lee Conley is looking at retaining more students this year at Eagle Valley Middle School than ever before during his career as an administrator.
He’s used to holding back one or two annually. But by the end of this school year, Conley confirmed he will be retaining at least eight eighth-graders from promotion and possibly two more. The sum is more students combined than in his past 17 years as a principal.
“We have had numerous conversations with numerous parents and kids to say, ‘You are in danger of not having enough credits,’ ” Conley told the Appeal. “That apathy of ‘I don’t care, they’re going to pass me anyway, nothing’s going to get done’ attitude will get them in deep.”
Carson Middle School Principal Amy Robinson anticipates holding back at least three students with another six “on the verge.”
“It depends on if they can pass a certain number of classes and they’ll just barely make it in for summer class and get to high school if they’re successful,” Robinson said.
Teachers use several strategies, including working afterschool or during lunches, to try to keep students on track. But some students haven’t demonstrated a goal, Robinson said.
“You have to work really hard to fail, honestly,” she said. “It’s just that general apathy that concerns me. It’s that lack of kids even thinking about what they might do when they’re done with high school.”
Carson City School District policy calls for retaining students who don’t meet requirements and limits the time they can be retained.
“An eighth grade student not meeting the criteria for academic probation will not be promoted to high school and will be retained in the eighth grade for the following school year,” reads district policy. “A retained eighth grade student may not be promoted mid-year or retained for more than one year. The final decision regarding retention is determined by the principal.”
Conley, who worked at the elementary level for 16 years and now has served in middle school for 12 years, says young people learn important life skills — including work ethics — at the junior high school age.
“I think middle school is most important for the habits, for the work ethic. If you are getting lazy now, it’s going to be very difficult to change as you get older,” he said. “They hit high school and they mature, the light comes on but they’re in so deep.”
Robinson said students this year in general are more difficult to engage – not because it’s a post-pandemic era but because they have acquired a “school is optional” notion.
“It’s actually the law,” she said. “They’re supposed to be here 90% of the time. … We need to have kids in seat having live instruction.”
Carson High School Principal Bob Chambers said the school does not hold its students back.
“We don't ‘retain’ students,” Chambers said. “We are a credit bearing institution. You either get all of the credits you need to graduate or you don’t.”
At Eagle Valley, dangling “a stick and a carrot” to motivate students might work, depending on the approach and the reward. Eagle Valley offers its afterschool club and transportation for those most willing to put in the time. New this year, Conley said, is a pilot program with the school’s Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports. If students turn in all assignments for a class, each one gets three points each, as an example.
Participating in the year-end promotion ceremony might be the biggest incentive for students in danger of retention, and still that doesn’t reach everyone.
“We’re frustrated beyond belief, but we continue coming back,” he said. “It’s an ‘I’m tired of your crap’ kind of conversation with these kids. … I don’t know if we’re just crazy or gluttons for punishment.”