Our counseling team at Southwood Middle School utilizes a district data report titled “Early Warning System” Indicator Report (EWS), that uses research proven thresholds of attendance, behavior and course performance to identify students at risk for not meeting educational milestones. As counselors, this tool allows us early identification of struggling students, thus providing us the opportunity to intervene early to bring students back on track for promotion, high school graduation and postsecondary success. Beginning in September, we analyzed our EWS report and held conversations with our students, teachers, administrators, and parents to determine which students/subgroup of students who, if provided targeted and intensive supports, would redirect their path to one of student success. Research continually shows that by helping students improve their attendance, behavior and grades in middle school they stand a significantly better chance of graduating high school on time. With this in mind, the counselors decided that in order to ensure equity to the school and the students, the gap of students at-risk of retention must be closed. This focus will support our academic goal to decrease the number of students retained by 30% as well as improve attendance for these students. Our counseling interventions consisted of small group counseling following a set of lessons from the Florida Department of Education to ensure the curriculum and activities were highly aligned, evidenced-based and developmentally appropriate. Small group counseling was selected as the method of delivery because it allows students to learn information and receive personalized feedback in a supportive environment.
We analyzed our EWS Report to identify students with the greatest needs based on students flagged with the most at-risk warning indicators (ranging from one to six flags). We had one student with an indicator of six, three students with an indicator of five, and 24 students with an indicator of four. We had a total of 9 sixth grade students, 8 seventh grade students, and 11 eighth grade students for a total of 28 students. It is important to target this group of students to enable them to re-engage and keep them on the pathway to graduation.
Target groups were formed by grade level with these students. The sixth grade and seventh grade students with last names A-L were seen by Ms. Kostovski and the seventh grade students with last names M-Z as well as the eighth grade students were seen by Ms. Hall. Parents were contacted and approved of the counseling sessions that would be delivered to students to promote academic achievement and improve attendance. The counselors met with their group(s) of students on a weekly basis for eight weeks for approximately 30-45 minutes each time. Follow-up academic advisement and/or counseling sessions were provided as needed.
During the first and last small group counseling sessions, the counselors had students complete a pre- and post-test with five “True or False” question to measure growth and understanding. During the counseling sessions, the counselors provided the students with an academic review of their grades and attendance, provided lessons on learning styles, researched careers and college majors, learned strategies for prioritizing, time management and organization, calculating GPA’s, the importance of good attendance, and how to create and make SMART goals a reality.
Out of the 28 students, we had three students retained, 12 students will be making up a course in summer school or during the next school year (these students were promoted based on our student progression requirements) and 13 students were promoted by passing all courses. The counselors strongly feel this group was a success as students gained a better understanding of graduation requirements and the strategies needed to be successful learners.
Our counseling team will be collaborating during the next school year to deliver intensive academic advising and support for those students who were retained or are recovering a course. Also, data from student report cards will be analyzed over the summer to disaggregate data to determine if achievement gaps continue to exist between student groups. If we notice gaps in groups identified on our EWS Report then it will be critical to offer interventions again for underachieving students.