Woodland’s PASS program helped transform a struggling freshman to 2021 early graduate

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Recent graduate Tristan Shindell graduated a semester early thanks to the Positive Academic Support System (PASS) at Woodland Public Schools.

The program, which started in 2017, connects struggling first-year high school students with staff mentors who guide them through a successful academic career and beyond. 

When Shindell first started at Woodland High School that year, academic struggles he was already suffering from in middle school made him feel like he would never graduate high school. 

“I was failing all my classes and didn’t think I was going to graduate,” Shindell said in a news release from WPS. “The school reached out to let me know about the PASS program and I was put in Cyndy’s group.”

Cyndy Grayson is a mentor in the PASS Program and has memories of the team trying to figure out how the program would operate in its 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 mentors in the program, the key to student success is breaking through a struggling student’s barriers and building trust. Sometimes, helping a student get the edge they need to succeed can be as simple as eating breakfast every day.

“We make sure our students have eaten every morning because studies show how dramatically hunger can negatively impact student learning,” Grayson said. “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.”

Following his freshman year, issues at home added to Shindell’s struggles during his time as a sophomore. According to the release, Grayson 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,” Shindell said. “Being waist-deep in homework is no fun, and PASS showed me that I could get the work done and succeed at my studies.”

Shindell received an additional challenge when his family relocated to Enumclaw his junior year. However, he said he excelled there due to support from the program and his father.

“For an entire year, all I did was school which was difficult, but it helped me to succeed,” he said. 

For Shindell’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.”

Currently, Shindell 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.”

Grayson uses Shindell’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 offered 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,” he said.

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