Teacher Support Helps Students Find Their Path at Goshen High

May 22, 2024

Teacher Support Helps Students Find Their Path at Goshen High

Goshen High School Senior Jessica Velazquez Valdes was nervously pacing the floor of her home in Indiana. In minutes, she would find out whether or not she got accepted into her top college choice, something she had not thought possible when she entered high school. “I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is my future - in this email that I'm going to get,’” Velazquez Valdes said. She logged into her application account on her phone and stared in disbelief at her acceptance letter.

It’s triumphant moments like this that Goshen High School teachers and staff work every day to help make possible for students. By investing in their educators and honing in on quality instruction, Goshen High School has been able to cultivate opportunities for all sorts of students and interests - whether they find themselves at a four-year college, a local community college, behind a welding helmet at a trade school, under the hood of a car at a renowned mechanic, or in the thick of a business expo for future innovators.

"At the high school level, we support students to access valuable experiences that align with their aspirations and help them to reach their goals,” said Goshen Community Schools Superintendent Jim DuBois. “Our goal is to help pave the way for them to confidently take that next step on their professional journey, whether that leads to college, a technical field, or other professional pathway.”

When students successfully take that first step on their desired path, it’s a win for Goshen High - but that success takes time and skill to craft, and that foundation starts with teachers. 

Step 1: Support great classroom instruction

Cathy DeMeyer has worked with hundreds of students as a science teacher, an assistant principal, and now the principal of Goshen High School. She leads a staff that includes experts from all walks of life - and that benefits students interested in various career pathways. Goshen High serves a student population of about 57% Hispanic students, a majority of whom are in or tested out of the English Language Learner program. In addition, about 64% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. 

Over the last six years, Goshen High has substantially increased graduation rates for all students, including increasing the graduation rate for Hispanic students. In 2018, the school’s overall graduation rate was nearly seven percentage points below the state average, and the Hispanic student graduation rate was five percentage points below the state average for Hispanic students. 

By 2023, Goshen High’s students had made remarkable progress, surpassing the state's overall graduation rate by five percentage points (93% vs 88%), and topping the state’s average Hispanic student graduation rate by six percentage points (92% vs 86%).

These successes are driven by investing in teachers' skills through strengthening instruction so that each student has support to pursue and excel in their pathway. To accomplish this, Goshen designs its partnerships and classes with different pathways in mind. 

“Pathways and CTE are exploding in popularity right now in Indiana. You have a lot of choices with pathways. What's cool about manufacturing, welding, and construction is that all of those teachers have come from industry or owning their own business,” Jen Yoder, an engineering teacher and instructional coach at Goshen High, explained. “We have no problem getting them licensed because of that expertise. But they’ve never been in front of 30 high schoolers before.”

That’s where high-quality teacher support and teacher leadership come in. Teacher leadership and mentoring in the classroom are critical for all subjects, but Goshen found a niche in supporting teachers through CTE pathways to help bolster opportunities for students.

New teachers participate in weekly collaborative professional learning with other teachers in “cluster meetings.” This collaborative work is organized into cycles of learning aligned to school goals and priorities using a research-based meeting protocol. The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching’s (NIET's) 5 Steps of Effective Learning provides instructional leaders with a systematic process to ensure that the valuable time teachers spend in collaborative team meetings is focused, productive, and useful. The steps help leaders facilitate meetings that are well planned and tied to specific student needs identified through data, introduce instructional strategies grounded in the curriculum, support teachers in planning how they will apply this learning in their classroom, and include a plan for measuring the impact on student learning. It’s this approach that helps ensure Goshen teachers have the time to focus on instructional improvement through collaboration and evidence-based practices. 

Yoder has paired up with three new teachers this year just entering the classrooms and based her teacher leader instruction and support on the NIET Teaching and Learning Standards Rubric - which applies to all teaching subjects, even CTE, DeMeyer said. 

“The new teachers could then analyze and break down what they saw someone else teaching,” DeMeyer explained. “Yoder’s taught in front of them and they've watched her. She's co-taught with them. As a teacher leader, she has just been strategic in implementing a gradual release of support to the new teachers. And they are three of our best teachers now. As Yoder coaches these teachers, The NIET Teaching and Learning Standards rubric is a tool she uses to create a common language for these new teachers to understand specific instructional actions that directly impact student engagement and learning." 

According to Yoder, the core of Goshen’s approach to training teachers and developing their skills comes from the Teaching and Learning Standards Rubric, which describes high-impact teaching strategies that result in more effective teaching and learning.

“The rubric has had the biggest impact, especially in this high school. I've been here 26 years and when I first started, instruction was very lecture-heavy,” Yoder said. “Now, if you hear a teacher talking for more than 15 minutes, it's rare. The rubric and NIET have helped deepen that progress and impact even more within our building and our district.”

Step 2: Create pathways for all students

High School Senior Marisol Diaz lives and breathes business at Goshen High School. It’s her passion and the foundation of her plan following graduation this spring. She interns with the school’s bookkeeper and has helped launch Goshen High School’s first school store, where she tracks what is selling well to adjust stock and marketing.

“I thought coming into high school, all you do is academics. Then I realized all the other opportunities like internships and the youth advisory board. Once I knew about them, I realized I wanted to go into the business field,” Diaz said. “I asked teachers and they started giving me connections to places where I can work on my passion and develop my skills. That opened a lot of doors and will impact me positively after high school.”

While Diaz’s family speaks Spanish at home, her  English language fluency quickly grew during her short time in the English Learner program at Goshen when she was young - skills she now takes advantage of in her business practices. 

“When you come in with a Hispanic heritage like myself, your parents come here with nothing. So when you're in school, parents try to push you to do the best you can and always go as far as your ability can take you in school because that's the only thing you can leave behind to your children,” Diaz said.

Teachers and staff work year after year to support students like Diaz in their ambitions and dreams - and some have returned to reflect on how the school helped them get to where they are today, like Kenyan-American Tyra Gichobi. 

Step 3: Help students achieve their dreams

Gichobi knew college was the goal for as long as she could remember. When her parents left Kenya and moved to the United States, they brought their longstanding passion and respect for education along with them. 

“College is super important to me and that was something that my parents agreed with, so during my senior year of high school, I applied to as many colleges as I could,” Gichobi said in an interview when she visited her old high school.

Gichobi’s parents came to the U.S. to attend college themselves, but the high cost of education was a barrier and they couldn’t complete their degrees, she said. Her family’s background made it even more important and personal for her to attend.

After a demanding application process, she received two game-changing scholarships. Now, she’s a freshman studying pre-nursing at Indiana University. Her favorite memory of Goshen was her academic honors ceremony at her graduation from Goshen High School, which her grandmother flew in from Kenya to attend. 

Looking back on her time at Goshen and her process of applying to college, Gichobi said her teachers were there for her every step of the way - especially one.

“One of my teachers, he was someone who was always hoping for me to go to college and I was constantly updating him about my applications. I had conversations with him about how I would pay for school because that was concerning for me since my parents hadn't finished school and he had kids that went to college. It helped me figure out my options,” Gichobi said. “I was incredibly supported throughout high school, and it prepared me for college, especially in my English classes. I discovered my love for writing, but I wasn't confident in it for the longest time. My teachers were able to help me navigate that part of myself and develop that skill that I have.”

DeMeyer remembers Gichobi’s journey from high school to college student fondly.

“She is very complimentary of what she learned here at the high school and our mission for success for all students,” DeMeyer said with a smile. 

Gichobi, Diaz, and Velazquez Valdes are climbing to new professional and academic heights as they move on from Goshen, each reflecting a future made possible by the knowledge and skill of their teachers who supported them along the way. The education and motivation that helps carry students from Goshen to their next step all begins with teachers and instructional improvement - which is a product of intentional planning and investment from leadership. 

The commitment to helping teachers learn and grow with the support of teacher leaders creates a strong foundation for Goshen’s success. Leaders are seeing investments in teacher effectiveness are producing results for students. 

“One of the things we're very proud of in Goshen is that our teachers love our kids and they always want to see them succeed in the classroom every day,” DeMeyer said. “Our energy around student outcomes pairs so well with strategizing how to support teachers to help them succeed.”