Award shines light on Owen's innovative approach

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
The ACT Boost Camp, which Owen principal Meg Turner points to as one innovative approach her school has taken to help students be more successful, helped juniors by preparing them for the standardized college admission test.

Every year the N.C. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development recognizes schools in the state that take creative approaches to help students succeed academically. 

It's fitting that Owen High School would be one of the four schools to bring home a Lighthouse Award this year, since it suffers from no shortage of bright ideas when it comes to putting kids on a successful path. 

Owen applied for the Lighthouse Award in 2018 but was not selected for the honor, which includes a $1,000 prize for recipients. The school decided to apply for the award again this year, principal Meg Turner said. 

"This school is an awesome, great place," she said. "We have a lot of really great things here to highlight for other schools across the state."

The high school makes an effort to stay current with best practices, according to the principal, who points to Owen's advocate group program as an example. 

Owen High School teacher Brian Maccarelli works to prepare students for the science portion of the ACT exam.

"Three or four years ago we created these groups, so every teacher, counselor, every administrator and several of our non-licensed staff have a group of 10-12 students who they serve as an advocate for," Turner said. "We meet twice a month, we have a shared lesson plan and we work in those advocate groups to develop relationships with students, make meaningful connections and help them feel connected to the school community."

The lessons focus on everything from course registration or graduation requirements to affective skills, like motivation and ethics, she continued. 

"The periods really serve as a connection point between the advocate and their students," Turner said. "It is best practice in school's today for students to have a one-on-one connection point with an adult."

More recently, Owen developed and implemented a program called the ACT Boost Camp, a two-day event that reviewed strategies for taking tests, content students might find on the standardized college admission test. It also included a motivational component. 

"We wanted our students to be refreshed and renewed and focused on that exam," Turner said. "We visited a school in Henderson County that had a similar program and modeled it after them."

Juniors completed the testing in early March.

"We hope that the camp will help students feel more confident and relaxed heading into testing," Turner said. "That should help them do well on the test. The students really liked the camp."

While students who have always planned on attending college are typically already driven to perform well on the ACT, others benefit greatly from the Boost Camp.

"We have a lot of students who don't know if they're going to go to college, or have already decided they're not, and they're not really interested in the test," Turner said. "We had to figure out a way to motivate all of our students because it's a requirement in this state that all juniors take it."

Turner points to the school's SMART Lunch as another innovate practice at Owen. 

"There is an hour in the middle of the day, 11 a.m. - 12 p.m., and during the first 30 minutes of that hour is tutoring time," she said. "Any student who has a C or below in a class is required to attend tutoring during that time period. Everybody else has the hour to enjoy lunch and do other things."

The school is the only in Buncombe County to implement the initiative. 

"We're in about our fifth year of doing this right now," Turner said. "A couple of other schools in the county tried it and couldn't really make it work, but it's done well here. Everybody loves it."

These unique approaches to education produce results, according to the principal. 

"When you look at the advocate groups, ACT Boost Camp and SMART Lunch, we see the results in our student accountability," she said. "We see students passing more classes, making better grades and improved test scoring. Three years in a row now we've exceeded growth in our state accountability testing expectations."

The NCASCD also takes into account the climate of a school when selecting Lighthouse Award winners. 

"When you put 750 teenagers in one place that brings inherent challenges," Turner said. "You have to work constantly to create positive opportunities to make learning relevant to them. Our school's mission is to empower students to dream while preparing them to achieve."

Through that mission, she continues, Owen enjoys a culture where most students enjoy coming to school. 

"We're also connected to our community," Turner said. "I think our community feels like we're there high school and our high school feels like it belongs to the community. I think that gives our students place and purpose."