In Fowler High School’s cluttered art room, about 20 young women in matching blue sport coats crowd around four tables for a typical meeting in the inaugural year of the Redcat Women’s League. The students are flanked by two tutors on either side of the room, and each teenager is soaking up the daily briefing from the course’s instructor, Becky Caudle.
The agenda for Nov. 13 is simple: review the students’ weekly trip to a local elementary school to play with fourth- and fifth-graders and help them with their homework, and work on any outstanding assignments with the help of tutors.
The Redcat Women’s League is an offshoot of the Redcat Men’s Alliance, which began last year. Caudle listed the group’s three main points of emphasis in order of importance: maintaining good grades; building a positive and respectful attitude toward one another, teachers and community members; and growing closer as a group.
Both programs utilize funds from California’s Local Control Funding Formula, which provides extra money to schools like Fowler High School because of the district’s high concentration of poverty, English-language learners and foster kids.
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Fowler High Principal Hank Gutierrez said the two programs create a system of encouragement for students.
“These students may not have a cheerleader at home,” he said. “They are all alone. We try to give them that needed support here.”
Gutierrez said the Redcat programs also create a culture of accountability. Students must show their teachers up-to-date progress reports at least once a week and explain all missed assignments.
Gutierrez believes the students feel the added responsibility of not wanting to disappoint their peers or the younger students they mentor. Students not getting acceptable grades will be barred from off-campus trips and team-building exercises.
Zachary Smith, a 16-year-old sophomore in his first year with the Redcat Men’s Alliance, said he got three Ds last year. But as of Nov. 17, he had only one.
“There’s a lot of motivation here,” Zachary said. “The older students have helped me a lot with adjusting to high school.”
Josh Turpin is in his second year as the Redcat Men’s Alliance instructor.
“Last year, the goal was to help these kids graduate high school,” Turpin said. “As I’ve worked with them, my goals have grown. I would like to see most of these kids go to a four-year college.”
Turpin said he and Gutierrez have talked about adding a second Redcat Men’s Alliance class.
“We have a couple ways we can go from here,” Turpin said. “We could turn them loose — I feel confident right now that most of them will do well. I’d selfishly like to keep them, however, so I can be there when they achieve success.”
Turpin said that 14 of his 25 students are in their second year of Redcat Men’s Alliance.
Only two are graduating seniors, Turpin said.
Adding a second class would require more district funds, but Fowler Unified Superintendent Eric Cederquist believes students should leave the program once they are back on track academically.
According to the most recent district budget, the cost of running both programs for the 2014-15 school year is about $90,000 of the district’s local control funds, which total $1.8 million. Cederquist said most of the funds are used for adding new staff members, training existing staff and hiring one academic coach for each school and three districtwide coaches to assist teachers.
“The coaches work with teachers to refine their best practices, help them implement new strategies and assist with lesson design,” he said.
The funds are expected to grow to around $3 million in 2015-16 and $3.6 million in 2016-17.
“The input on how we use these funds has never been higher,” Cederquist said. “We meet with school advisory committees, parent groups like the PTA and staff members, and we circulate surveys among staff and community members.”
The future of the Redcat programs will be evaluated in this way each year, he said.
The Redcat Women’s League may also need to expand in the future.
“The Redcat Women’s League focuses a little more on social skills — like a sorority,” Gutierrez said. “These girls get told negative things like ‘you’re not going anywhere.’ It’s important for girls at this development stage to get reinforcement from their peers.”
All five of the Redcats Women’s League students surveyed — one freshman, three sophomores and one junior — said they hope to stay in the league at least one more year.
“We have a connection as girls,” 15-year-old sophomore Kasandra Garcia said. “I feel like we can get together and talk about anything here.”
Caudle believes the Redcat Women’s League has instilled a sense of respect in her students, most of whom would typically average five or six behavioral referrals by mid-November. But this year, they only have one or two.
“The biggest thing I’ve noticed is just a change in their attitudes,” Caudle said. “They are repeating what I do in class — little things like saying please and thank you. That may seem like nothing, but for these kids, it’s huge.”