7 Mindsets Helps Alternative High School Increase Graduation Rates to 77%
SEL Case Study
Pathfinder is an alternative high school serving approximately 55 ninth- through twelfth-graders in Fremont County School District #1 in Lander, Wyoming. Fremont County School District #1 is a pre-K–12 public school district located along the east slope of the Wind River Mountain Range of West-Central Wyoming and is home to 1840 students — a district that encompasses a total land area of 3,147 square miles.
Pathfinder High School – Fremont County School District #1 – Lander, WY
The sentiment that school was just a “legal requirement” was pushing down the school’s graduation and success rates.
30 minutes of mindset-building per week for all students in grades 9-12 plus additional SEL activities.
Graduation rates are 77% (versus a previous 58%), most graduates are college- or workforce-bound, and some received the school’s first allocation of local and community scholarships.
The alternative high school for Fremont County School District #1 in Lander, Wyo., Pathfinder High School serves 50 students in grades 9-12. A school of choice, it provides a learning space for students that need options outside of traditional high school. “Kids come to us for myriad reasons,” said Ceatriss Wall, Principal.
Bordering the Wind River Indian Reservation, the district has Native American students who attend its various schools, including Pathfinder High School, which is a Title 1 school based on socioeconomic status. With four full-time core teachers and a special education instructor, the school utilizes an accelerated learning path that finds students finishing otherwise year-long courses within a single semester.
Improving Function and Focus
Upon joining the Pathfinder High School team, Wall and Elisa Harrison, Counselor, worked together to get a clear picture of its student body and its needs. “What we learned was that our students have some big stories to tell. They come to school with big shoulders and are often carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders,” said Wall. “Academically, they just couldn’t function or focus due to everything going on in their personal and social lives.”
Exposed to the 7 Mindsets social emotional learning (SEL) curriculum at a community event, they were instantly impressed by its strong accountability component and how it gave kids a chance to not be victims and to have a voice in their education and their lives. “We said to ourselves, ‘Wow, we have to get this SEL curriculum into our school because our students need their voice and their choice and being able to speak,’” Harrison recalls.
30 Minutes of Mindset-Building Per Week
After implementing 7 Mindsets, Pathfinder High School’s staff immediately built intervention time—both morning and afternoon—into its regular, daily schedule. Rolling the SEL curriculum out for grades 9-12, Harrison began teaching one mindset per month. “We have early release on Wednesdays, so we made that part of our Wednesday schedule that first year.” Wall said. “Teachers were reading and learning the mindsets right along with our students.”
Today, each student participates in 30 minutes of mindset-building per week as part of his or her structured classroom time. The school also incorporates activities throughout the year. “Pre-COVID, we did a once-a-month activity that we invited community members and parents to,” said Harrison. “Hopefully we’ll get back to that this year.”
According to Harrison, the payoff for that 30 minutes of mindset-building per week has been significant. “It’s led to us being able to do all sorts of relationship-building with teachers and project-based learning in the classrooms,” she said. “We now have kids who are going to college, summer camps, and other opportunities that they never would have dreamed of applying for.”
Graduation rates have also improved at Pathfinder High School, which is now graduating around 77% of its students (up from a previous 58%). “7 Mindsets has changed everything fundamentally at our school,” said Wall. “It’s changed how we think as a staff, the way our students think, how we operate, and where our students go from here.”
Live to Give
More specifically, Harrison said the “Live to Give” mindset alone has helped vastly improve student accountability levels as kids strive for “100% accountability” in everything they do. This accountability will extend past high school, with 10 out of the school’s 14 graduates (for 2021) already enrolled in college by the time they graduated.
“They had their schedules selected and FAFSA applications, and were ready to rock and roll,” said Wall. Another four graduates were ready to enter the workforce—and all from a high school class with a previously-anticipated graduation rate of just 58%. Fast-forward to 2021 and three of the 14 total graduates finished high school one year early (and one finished a full semester early).
“We’re very proud of the fact that the majority of our graduates are now college- or workforce-bound,” said Harrison. “Many of them will be the first college-bound kids in their families, and some received local and community scholarships—something that we haven’t had in the past.”
Using Passion to Uncover Energy and Drive
Harrison said a crowd favorite among Pathfinder High School’s students is mindset #2, passion first. Pursue your passions first and foremost, it states, and you will be happier, more successful, and more excited to get up every day. And, you will uncover an energy and drive you didn’t even know existed.
Building upon this mindset, teachers all shared with their classes something that they themselves were passionate about. One shared her passion for cake decorating, another loved riding horses, and a third talked about traveling the world. “We also had a teacher share her passion for photography,” said Harrison, “and one who made an electric guitar from scratch.”
These and other SEL activities have helped the team at Pathfinder High School literally rewrite the script for youngsters who at some point decided that school was just a legal requirement, and not something that they really wanted to do.
“With 7 Mindsets, not only have we changed our students, but we’ve also changed the way we think about and look at life,” said Wall. “Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would see the impact that we’ve seen now using 7 Mindsets and having SEL learning incorporated into daily life. There’re no words to explain how happy we are that we implemented this SEL curriculum at our school.”