Project P.O.D.S.: Providing Opportunities for
Developing Success. ERIC Digest.
by Roberge, Ron
In 1990, as part of a national stay-in-school campaign, the district
researched its school dropout rate and confirmed that the figures were
consistent with the provincial and national averages: 30-35% of students
starting grade 10 did not finish high school (Alexander & McEwin, 1989;
Armstrong, 1988). A broad-based task force confirmed that a comprehensive
intervention must be developed to reduce the high dropout levels. The Director
of Special Education and a Stay-in-School Program Developer proposed a
project that would integrate an array of interventions for "at-risk" youth
with planned organizational and curricular restructuring activities at
two junior secondary and two elementary schools. The project was called
"Providing Opportunities for Developing Success" or PODS.
The project consists of eight "PODS," or groups of 55-60 students, (two
at each participating school) with two teachers assigned to each POD. While
the underlying goal was to reduce the dropout rate, the overall objective
was to provide more personalized support for all students through programs
described in the literature as the "best practices" for responding to students
at risk of dropping out (Conrath, 1988; Slavin, 1988). In this way, it
was anticipated that meaningful and successful activities would become
permanent features of the schools, and would available to all students
in the system.
The main objectives and supporting activities of PODS are as follows:
1. To develop among at-risk students a sense of belonging, identification,
and membership within the school community.
2. To develop within at-risk students the ability to demonstrate mastery
in endeavors relevant and suitable to their individual needs.
3. To develop with at-risk students the skills necessary to increase
their sense of social responsibility.
4. To develop, through a coordinated and planned series of activities,
the ability for at-risk students to achieve independence and a higher internal
locus of control. The above objectives constitute key indicators of success
for students that are at risk of dropping out of school. To achieve these
objectives, the project was committed to implementing 13 activities, briefly
described as follows:
1. Establishing support programs for at-risk youth in the areas of peer
tutoring, peer counseling, and peer mentorship.
2. Establishing a conflict resolution and mediation program for at-risk
3. Establishing mechanisms which facilitate access to school governance
for at-risk youth in school-home partnerships.
4. Establishing school organizations which are more personalized and
learner focused to the social, academic, and personal needs of at-risk
youth and their families.
5. Establishing a program which enables at-risk youth to acquire and
demonstrate an advanced skill level in non-traditional academic or vocational
6. Establishing a formalized process for demonstrating significant skill
acquisitions within the school and community.
7. Establishing a program of leadership training for at-risk youth.
8. Establishing mentorship programs aimed at developing career awareness
and which enhance the relevance of education.
9. Establishing school and community partnerships in support of at-risk
10. Establishing multi-age peer support networks across grade and school
11. Establishing a support network for parents of at-risk youth.
12. Establishing a series of parent education seminars focusing on the
social, emotional, and educational needs of adolescents.
13. Establishing a program of school-community service projects.
The unique feature of the PODS project is its comprehensive nature.
It is comprehensive across grades, including elementary intermediate, and
secondary schools. It provides services to students within the schools
without segregating at-risk students. It encompasses all aspects of the
curriculum and seeks to draw together school and community resources on
behalf of students. This approach stands in contrast to the majority of
dropout interventions which offer special services for the at-risk students,
often as alternate programs, and which target students only at the intermediate
or secondary level.
Many existing programs provide valuable support for the individuals
involved, but they are inadequate in terms of serving the larger school
population. Furthermore, such services are often "too little too late"
to curb the momentum toward dropping out which often begins in early childhood.
For these reasons, it should not be surprising that research results on
these programs have failed to produce encouraging overall results. In contrast
to earlier methods, the PODS project adopted a comprehensive approach.
A wide range of services that are needed by at-risk youth have been identified
and blended together in regular integrated school settings. The PODS project
reflects the belief in supporting diversity through unity. It embodies
the belief that learning takes place within social relationships and a
caring environment. Kids learn best in an environment that instills and
promotes self-esteem and which provides more personal and caring contact
with fewer teachers.
Although PODS is relatively new, there is ample evidence that it is
working: from independent evaluations (Neufeld, 1994), internal evaluation
reports (Doerksen & Richardson, 1994; PODS Steering Committee, 1994),
and documentation in teacher logs. Teachers reported that PODS participants
in the peer tutoring program "are some of the best tutors: the most compassionate
and most dependable." Students reported that involvement in PODS had a
positive effect on self-esteem and social skills, in the words of one student
"I learned people skills, how to communicate better and how to work with
others." One of the PODS participants went on to become Prime Minister
of the student body. A parent survey indicated that 99% of the parents
were in favor of the PODS program and 95% of them attributed the success
of the program to its comprehensive nature. All 13 activities in the program
received similar support. Thus, it is not possible to identify any single
activity to account for the success. More likely, the success of the PODS
Project lies in its comprehensiveness and its emphasis on personal interaction.
In the words of one teacher, "I am strongly supportive of the program.
As a teacher, I particularly like the flexibility and the opportunity it
gives me to become personally involved with the students."
One further factor contributing to the success of PODS is that it is
driven by a dedicated and enthusiastic staff. The staff display a wholesome
balance between confidence in the project, optimism for its future, and,
on the other hand, a constructive but critical wariness. The ongoing success
of PODS is certainly dependent on a spirited and dedicated team of teachers.
With the continued commitment of teachers and administrative support PODS
will continue to produce positive results.
Alexander, W., & McEwin, C. K. (1989). "Schools in the middle: status
and programs." Columbus, OH: National Middle School Association.
Armstrong, D. (1988). "Early school leavers: A review of the literature."
Edmonton, AB: Edmonton Public Schools.
Conrath, J. (1988). "Dropout Prevention: Find out if your program passes
or fails." The executive educator, 10(8), 15-16.
Doerksen, L., & Richardson, J. (1994). "Birchland elementary school:
Providing opportunities for developing success." Coquitlam, BC: Coquitlam
School District No. 43.
Neufeld, G. R. (1994). "An independent evaluation of Project P.O.D.S."
Coquitlam, BC: Coquitlam School District No. 43.
PODS Steering Committee. (1994). "Providing opportunities for developing
success: Evaluation of the P.O.D.S. Project." Coquitlam, BC: Coquitlam
School District No. 43.
Slavin, R. E. (1988). "Synthesis of research on grouping in elementary
and secondary schools." Educational Leadership, 46(1), 67-77.