Woodland’s PASS program helped a Class of 2021 graduate transform from struggling freshman to graduating a semester early

Tristan Shindell transformed from a struggling freshman at Woodland High School to graduating a semester early thanks to the Positive Academic Support System

Tristan Shindell transformed from a struggling freshman at Woodland High School to graduating a semester early thanks to the Positive Academic Support System (PASS), a Woodland program introduced in 2017 that connects struggling first-year high school students with dedicated staff mentors who guide them through a successful academic career and beyond.

Cyndy Grayson (left), a PASS Mentor, helped Tristan Shindell (right) receive the extra support he needed to succeed in his studies. Photo courtesy of Woodland School District
Cyndy Grayson (left), a PASS Mentor, helped Tristan Shindell (right) receive the extra support he needed to succeed in his studies. Photo courtesy of Woodland School District

When Tristan first started at Woodland High School in 2017, academic struggles he was already suffering from in middle school made him feel like he would not ever graduate high school. 

“I was failing all my classes and didn’t think I was going to graduate,” he remembered. “The school reached out to let me know about the PASS program and I was put in Cyndy’s group.”

Cyndy Grayson, one of the PASS mentors, remembers the team trying to figure out exactly how the program would operate during that first year, “Right away, we learned that PASS is not about students having failing grades, it’s about why the students have failing grades,” she said. “Factors going on in students’ personal lives outside of school can have a bigger impact on their academic success than anything happening in the classroom.”

For PASS mentors, the key to student success is breaking through a struggling student’s barriers to show the student they can trust their mentor. Sometimes, helping a student get the extra edge they need to succeed can be as simple as ensuring they eat breakfast each day. 

“We make sure our students have eaten every morning because studies show how dramatically hunger can negatively impact student learning,” said Cyndy. “It’s the Mom in me – I want to make sure our students get a good night’s sleep, that they can concentrate, and that they have hope because they know we won’t let them give up.”

After his freshman year, issues at home added to Tristan’s struggles during his second year. To ensure Tristan would receive extra time to take tests and accommodations to alleviate his academic struggles, Cyndy helped him apply for and receive an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). 

“PASS helped me to stop stressing about school so much by letting me take my time to concentrate and work at my own pace,” said Tristan. “Being waist-deep in homework is no fun, and PASS showed me that I could get the work done and succeed at my studies.”

Tristan received an additional challenge when his family relocated to Enumclaw his junior year, however, he excelled there thanks to his experience at PASS and to support from his father. 

“I started doing really well in Enumclaw thanks to my father staying on top of me, he remembered. “For an entire year, all I did was school which was difficult, but it helped me to succeed.”

For Tristan’s senior year, he moved back to Woodland to help his grandfather and earn a diploma with his friends at Woodland High School. 

“I wanted to help out my grandfather by getting a job, so Cyndy helped me develop a plan to graduate early,” he said. “I went from not thinking I would be able to graduate during my freshman year to graduating a semester early thanks to PASS.”

Now, Tristan wants to get a job involving one of his passions: cars of all kinds. “I would love to get an apprenticeship in metal fabrication,” he said. “My interests and my life revolve around cars and I want to get into a career involving that.”

Cyndy uses Tristan’s success as motivation and inspiration that the PASS program works. “This amazing young man overcame adversity, never gave up on himself, and now I see only great things happening for Tristan in his future,” she said. “I do strongly believe that if it weren’t for the development and growth of the PASS program, Tristan may not be the success story I can now proudly share.”

Tristan offers advice to fellow students who may find themselves struggling. “Don’t give up – there’s always so much you can do if you put your mind to it, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Learn about Woodland’s PASS team

The Positive Academic Support System (PASS) pairs struggling students with dedicated staff members to mentor them through high school. Providing students with the support they need as early as possible may be key to their overall success. 

“Studies show that students who end their ninth year on-track by passing all of their courses are 3.5 times more likely to graduate from high school than peers who fail one or more classes,” explained Assistant Principal Dan Uhlenkott, who helped develop the concept initially. “Many PASS students actually refer to their PAS mentors as ‘school moms’ who ensure the students have the push they need during each school day.”

PASS team members provide students with homework help, encouragement, and training in ways to be a self-advocate, sometimes even serving as a liaison between a student and a teacher. The PASS team also maintains a food pantry where students can grab a quick meal or snack throughout the school day. School counselors provide mental health services and the district’s Family Community Resource Center (FCRC) helps students access any resources their families may need. 

“We help students connect with the right people and services so they don’t fall through the cracks,” said Stacy Gould, PASS Program coordinator. “Essentially, we are the go-to resource to help guide them in the right direction.”

Learn more about how Woodland Public Schools educates students and serves the community, by visiting our dedicated news webpage at www.woodlandschools.org/news/wsd

Stay informed with the latest updates about the transition from remote learning to in-person learning and more about COVID-19 at Woodland Public Schools’ dedicated coronavirus website: www.woodlandschools.org/covid-hq

Information provided by Woodland School District.

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