The Cost of Supporting (or not) Struggling Students

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Over the course of the week, I have been thinking deeply about our most vulnerable students… those we label “at risk”.  My Middle Level Partnership colleagues and I had the pleasure of presenting the Bright Futures report to the Truancy, Dropout, Alternative Education Advisory Committee to the Education Commissioner.  We were delighted to have the opportunity to spend quality time discussing how information in the report might inform their recommendations for preventing truancy and dropping out in high school.

Coincidentally, the latest NMSA Middle School Journal arrived in my mailbox the day after our presentation. The theme of this issue is Reaching and Teaching All Students. This evening as I helped prepare dinner, I picked up the journal from the counter where it had landed with all the other mail earlier in the day.  As the asparagus steamed, I quickly scanned the articles.  One in particular caught my attention:  Accelerating Struggling Students’ Learning Through Identity Redevelopment. “Huh”, I thought, “sounds like some quick fix, one size fits all program that will guarantee success for the students most at risk.  Yeah… right…”  But as I continued to skim through the article, I was intrigued by such phrases as “individual attention and engaging, relevant lessons”, “positive sense of belonging”, and “engrossed in learning and seek opportunities to expand their knowledge and skill.”  This clearly did not sound like any of the programs that I originally had in mind!

After carefully reading through the article, I realized that there were some very solid learnings and recommendations here.  The findings of this study of students identified as highly at risk of dropping out strongly support the recommendations in Bright Futures… that students need a sense of accomplishment, a sense of belonging and a sense of engagement in order to succeed.   The study indicates that students at risk met with success when they were in learning environments that  provided this foundation.  And the study also revealed that when any aspect of this foundation was missing, then many of the students were not able to succeed.

A sad (and all too familiar) reality of the school in this study:  budget cuts and a change in administration led to the discontinuation of the program.  While some elements were salvaged, far fewer students continued into high school successfully.

The findings of this study challenge us to consider if we are really serious about supporting our most vulnerable students.  Do we truly have the commitment to provide these students with the relevant learning experiences, social and emotional supports, sustained and systemic supports throughout their middle and high school years?  We must not leave it to chance.  Our state, district and school policies must support  those practices that will ensure the success of all students. The cost is too great to leave such an important issue to chance!

For the Middle School Journal article…  http://www.nmsa.org/Publications/MiddleSchoolJournal/Articles/March2011/Article3/tabid/2354/Default.aspx

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