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Nile C. Kinnick High School students take Continuous School Improvement into their own hands in a student-led program to improve academic performance.
Nile C. Kinnick High School students take Continuous School Improvement into their own hands in a student-led program to improve academic performance. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — High school students write oodles of essays. Most also need cash for college. Why not mix the two by honing writing skills on topics tailored for scholarship applications?

Chris Sanders was nervous when he started pitching ideas to teachers and the principal on how to improve academics at Nile C. Kinnick High School.

“I was scared at first,” said the Kinnick senior. “But the teachers were so nice. They wanted to hear what we had to say. They accepted it. Even the principal was all about it.”

This is Kinnick’s Continuous School Improvement Jr. team. All Department of Defense Dependent Schools have CSI programs, which are centered on academic accreditation. School faculty and parents set academic goals, then collect and analyze data to see if they’re meeting them.

But Kinnick is the only school with CSI Jr. — the student version, Sanders said.

The school’s status won’t last long, said teacher Stephanie Richardson.

“A half dozen schools have contacted me about setting up CSI Jr. in their schools,” Richardson said. She is Kinnick’s CSI co-chair and advises the student group.

“It’s really catching on,” she said.

Sanders and Richardson formed the group two years ago to tackle academics on eight fronts: the Terra Nova exam, the PSAT test, teachers, home school/community, students, technology, and the two goals set every five years by teachers and parents.

CSI Jr. members do everything from talking to faculty to making instructional videos for teenagers moving to Yokosuka Naval Base. They send home a monthly newsletter to parents and want to train younger leaders in the primary and middle schools.

This year, they added community service and peer tutoring to the mix.

“Some students are more comfortable with the equality of student-to-student,” Sanders said. “It’s not a power struggle.”

Sure, being a teenager is hectic. Sanders, for instance, said he balances schoolwork with wrestling, football and an after-school job. Still, he said, students like putting in the time to make sure the school is making the grade.

CSI Jr. has grown from five to 40 members in the last two years, Sanders said.

“You give us some real responsibility and we run with it,” he said. “And every year we get better.”

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