Research (Baker et al., 2008) shows that students who feel more connected to their school are more successful academically. As school counselors, we utilized small group counseling to build this connection among our students. After discussing our program goals and the needs of our community, we formed four different small counseling groups. Two different groups were developed after reviewing our first program goal to identify Hispanic students who earned a C- or below during 1st Quarter. A Hispanic boys group and a separate Hispanic girls group met weekly to help our students feel more connected to the school community while becoming resilient, successful students. An attendance circle was developed to focus on students with poor attendance, while a high school transitional group discussed executive functioning. Counselors worked closely with administration and teachers after analyzing grades, discipline referrals and attendance reports to identify students who would benefit from small group counseling. Consultation meetings with both students and parents were held, and permission slips were sent home to all potential group members.
Our second program goal was to decrease the number of students with 10 or more absences by at least 10% compared to the previous school year’s attendance. Through individual counseling and teacher conferences, we closely monitored student attendance. As the year progressed, the data showed that there were still students who were consistently absent, and determined that a tier two intervention was needed. Since these students already had 10 or more absences, we created a specific goal for this group. By June 2016, 75% of identified 7th and 8th Grade students with 10 or more absences prior to March 8, 2016 will decrease their post-intervention full day absences and periods missed by 50%.
When the Restorative Justice (RJ) Attendance Circle approach to attendance was presented, we immediately felt this type intervention could be successful at Thoreau. RJ focuses on accountability for those who have harmed in a non-punitive setting. This small group counseling approach to address attendance builds a positive connection among the individuals in the group while helping the members to see the harm that they are causing by not coming to school.
Since Mr. Fishman and Ms. Turner participated in the Level 1 RJ training, both counselors had the opportunity to become attendance facilitators. After training, they began working on the logistics of the group, such as who would participate and the day and time of the group. Data from previous attendance circles in FCPS indicated, attendance circles were most successful when they met early in the day and at the start of the school week. After receiving teacher feedback, we decided to rotate between first and second period so students would only miss an individual class a total of four times. Each session would last about forty minutes, for a total of eight weeks, and was held on Tuesday mornings.
After identifying students who still had 10 or more absences, we had a commitment of eight students to participate in our group. Six of the students were eighth grade students and two of the students were in seventh grade. After the second week, one seventh grade student moved, leaving us with seven consistent participants. Students put reminders in their phones and passes were handed out during lunches to remind students about the group.
Overall, the perception data indicated participants felt supported by the attendance circle. Students were able to recognize how their attendance harmed not only themselves but their families, friends, teachers, counselors and administration. Overall, our outcome data shows the success of this group when analyzing full day absences. 75% of the identified students did decrease their full day attendance by 50% or more. When looking at period absences, only 4 of the 7 students decreased the number of periods missed by 50%. To address the discrepancy between full day and period absences, counselors will analyze the periods being missed and will work with students and parents on the impact of arriving to school late or checking out early. Counselors plan to evaluate the post-intervention time period and see if a more involved intervention is still needed. We would like to begin this type of small group counseling earlier in the school year, ideally in October. Our hope is that by starting the group in the fall we will have an opportunity to intervene before cumulative absences reach a total of ten. The data proves this is a successful intervention and the counselors are excited to continue using this type of intervention at Thoreau.
Group Name: Restorative Justice Attendance Circle
Goal: By June 2016, 75% of identified students will increase their post intervention in class seat time by 50%.
Target Group: 7th and 8th Grade Students with more than 10 absences from September 2015 to March 2016
Data Used to Identify Students: Attendance reports were reviewed of students with more than 10 whole day absences.
School Counselor(s): Eric Fishman
ASCA Domain, Mindsets & Behaviors Standard(s): Group 1: M 3,B SM 1,
B SS 2,B SS 3
Group 2: M 3,B SM 7,
B SS 2,B SS 3,B SS 6, B SS 8
Group 3: M 3, B LS 1
B SS 2,B SS 3,B SS 6
Group 4: M 3,B SM 1,
B SM 6,B SM 7,B SS 2
B SS 3,B SS 6
Group 5: M 3,B LS 1,
B SM 1,B SM 6,B SM 7,
B SS 2,B SS 3,B SS 5, B SS 6
Group 6: M 3,B LS 1,
B SM 1,B SM 2,B SM 6
B SM 7,B SS 2,B SS 3
B SS 6
Group 7: M 3,B LS 1
B SM 1,B SM 2,B SM 6
B SM 7,B SS 2,B SS 3
B SS 5,B SS 6
Group 8: M 3,B LS 1
B SM 1,B SM 6,B SM 7
B SS 2,B SS 3,B SS 5
B SS 6,B SS 8
Outline of Group Sessions Delivered: Group 1:
After a pre-survey is administered, students will be introduced to the Restorative Justice Attendance Circle format and use of a talking piece. A discussion will occur about confidentiality and trust.
Group will focus on friendships beginning with icebreaker questions. Quotations on friendships will be read and reflected by group.
This session focused on school memories and pros/cons of school. After icebreaker questions, the group will read quotations about educational philosophies. The group will reflect on these quotations while discussing personal thoughts and feelings about school.
This group will begin with icebreaker questions and then shift to a discussion on families and how our families can impact attendance. Participants will read quotations about families. After reflecting on these quotations, the group will discuss the influence their families have on their own lives especially school.
After opening icebreaker questions, students had an opportunity to see how their attendance has been impacted by the group. Attendance reports were given to students so they could compare their attendance prior to group and once group began. This was the first discussion about attendance within the group and all members were able to see a 100% improvement in their attendance. Group members reflected and discussed reasons for these improvements. Students read quotes from Nelson Mandela. After a discussion about Nelson Mandela and his struggles, the group reflected and discussed challenges other parts of the world experience with obtaining education and how Americans view education.
Counselors began with icebreaker questions and then checked in with the group on last week’s session. After having a week to process their current attendance trends, counselors wanted to get some feedback. Students received quotations on the philosophy of the classroom. Students read and reflected on these quotations. The group discussed their beliefs about school and introduced the idea of how missing school impacts others.
After the opening icebreaker questions, the group read and discussed the Restorative Justice handout. The group discussed how this approach is related to their own attendance. Students began to discuss reasons for their poor attendance and how it impacts them. The group then reflected on how their attendance also impacts their families, friends and teachers.
Students had an opportunity to develop their own icebreaker questions before reflecting on their attendance and how to repair the harm done by not coming to school. The group discussed how to support one another and set goals for the remainder of the school year. Students also participated in a post-survey and questionnaire.
Process Data (Number of students affected): A total number of eight students attended the first session of the Restorative Justice Attendance Circle. After the first session, one student moved so a total number of seven student completed the eight week group. The Attendance Circle first met on March 8th, 2016 and held its last group on May 3rd, 2016. Each session last between forty or forty-four minutes.
Perception Data (Surveys or assessments used): A paper/pencil pre-survey was given during the first group to assess students’ perception on attendance and school. The same paper/pencil survey was completed during the last session. This post-survey was used to evaluate whether student’s perception of attendance and school had changed during the eight week group. Questions focused on students’ connection to the school, their ability to enjoy school, satisfaction with grades, and interest in content. Students answered on a Likert Scale. (1/never, 2/some of the time, 3/most of the time, 4/all of the time.)
When comparing the pre and post-survey, most students responded with a more positive outlook on how they viewed school when taking the post-survey. For example, Question #1 asked students if they enjoyed being in school. The average response increased from a 2.6 to a 3. Question #5 asked students if they complete their work in school. This questions showed an average increase of a 3 to a 3.5. This increase can be attributed to the fact that students are in class more to complete in class assignments. There was also a positive increase in how students viewed adults in the building. Student responses increased on average from a 3.5 to 3.67 when asked if there was an adult who helps them. There was also an average of 3.3 to 3.5 increase when asked if there is an adult at school who tells them they are doing a good job.
The perception data indicated an average decrease in the post-survey when asked about grades. Question #10 asked students if they are satisfied with their grades. The average response decreased from a 3.16 to a 2.8. This attitude was also evident in Question #12. On average students responses changed from a 3.3 to a 2.67 on how successful they feel at school.
During the last session, students were also given a post-attendance questionnaire to fill out. This questionnaire was used to gain additional data on how students viewed the Attendance Circle. This data showed 100% of the students felt supported by the group and felt their attendance greatly improved since the start of the group. All but one student understood how their absences impacted not just themselves but their teachers, counselors, and family. All the students would recommend this group to another student struggling with attendance.
Pre/Post Survey Results:
1 .I enjoy being in my class.
2. An adult at my school cares about me.
3. I like school.
4. I want to learn.
5. I come to school.
6. I complete my work in class.
7. At my school, there is an adult who helps me when I need it.
8. I am interested in my school work.
9. I get sent out of class for my behavior.
10. I am satisfied with my grades.
11. I do my homework.
12. I feel successful at school.
13. My parent is satisfied with my grades.
Pre:3.16 Post: 2.66
14. I am able to stay in my classes.
15. I follow classroom rules.
16. I enjoy learning because I get better at something.
17. I think I can do well in school.
18. My teacher needs to speak to me about my behavior during class.
19. My teacher is satisfied with my grades.
20. I have the materials I need for class with me.
21. When I work hard, I do well.
22. I get to my classes on time.
23. What I am learning in school is important.
24. At my school there is an adult who tells me I do a good job.
Outcome Data (Achievement, attendance, and/or behavior data): Attendance Data:
Outcome data was collected by using the school’s Student Information System (SIS). The SIS attendance reports allowed us to compare data to evaluate the effectiveness of this small counseling group.
For the purpose of this small counseling group, the following attendance data was analyzed.
-Unexcused and excused “full day” absences prior to, during, and post group intervention (referred to as maintenance period).
Before group began, all the students missed at least 12% of school days. Once group began, all but one student showed a decrease in full day absences.
During group, we saw an average decrease of full day absences by 58%.
During the maintenance time span, a 54% decrease in full day absences occurred among our group.
All but one group member improved their post-intervention full day absences by 50% or more. Student #2 missed 0% of his periods’ post-intervention compared to the 17% of time he was out of school before the group began.
-Unexcused and excused “period” absences prior to, during, and post group intervention (referred to as maintenance period).
During the time period the group met a 48% decrease in periods missed was seen.
During the maintenance period, we witnessed an average decrease in periods missed by 37% among group members.
If we revised data without student #7, we see an average decrease of 50% of periods missed.
Student #7 was the only participant not to see an improvement in her attendance. She was the only 7th grade student in our group. She also had more than 20 absences before the group began in March. The Restorative Justice format suggests not to include students with more than 20 absences. The belief is different interventions are needed at that point in time. This student was included in the group upon administration request. Our outcome data supports that a different type of intervention was needed and this type of small group counseling is most successful for student who have more than 10 absences but less than 20.
When analyzing the data for the two students who decided not to join the group, we did notice an improvement in their attendance. One student was asked to join the group because he did have 10 absences between September 8, 2015 and March 7th, 2016. His mother called Ms. Turner to explain how her son had the flu and that was reason why he missed so much school. For the remainder of the school year, he only missed four more days.
The other student did miss more periods while the group meet. We saw periods miss increase from 46 to 72 but during the maintenance period she only missed seven periods. Since she was not a participants of the group, it is difficult to draw conclusion on why this improvement took place. Ms. Turner did meet with her for high school academic advising. The student was excited about the opportunities in high school and expressed a desire to be successful.
Overall, our outcome data shows the success of this group when analyzing full day absences. 75% of the identified students did decrease their full day absences by 50% or more.
When looking at period attendance absences, the goal was not met. Only four of the seven students decreased the periods missed by 50%. Even though the goal was not met, the outcome data did show significant overall improvement of students’ attendance. The outcome data proves that attendance circles are successful interventions when working with students who are truant.
Implications: Attendance Circles are about making connections with students. If students feel more connected at school, they are more likely to attend. The perception data and outcome data both indicated that participants felt supported by the attendance group. Students were able to recognize how their attendance harmed not only themselves but their families, friends, teachers, counselors and administrators.
The perception data did indicate a slight decrease when comparing grade satisfaction and successes at school. This data can help us when planning future groups. We need to focus more on student confidence. We also plan to work with their teachers more to support students to be feel more academically successful.
On the post group questionnaire, students had the opportunity to make suggestions for improving the group. One suggestion focused on building the relationship among group members so they become friends outside of group. Mr. Fishman and Ms. Turner have discussed including more team building activities in future groups. There was also a suggestion to meet during our Eagle Time (Remediation Period) so they do not miss class time instruction. Since Eagle Time will be 40 minutes instead of 26 minutes in the upcoming school year, the counselors plan to try the group during this time period.
Mr. Fishman and Ms. Turner plan to monitor these seven students during the upcoming school year to evaluate the long term effects of this intervention. Since six of the seven students will be 9th graders, the counselors have contacted the students’ high school counselor to inform them of their plan. Mr. Fishman and Ms. Turner will reach out at the end of each quarter to collect data on the students’ attendance. If an attendance pattern starts to develop, they will work with the high school counselor to develop a plan to intervene. Mr. Fishman and Ms. Turner will also work closely with our rising 8th grader. We plan to meet with her in the beginning of the school year to create a plan to help her be successful. We also plan to look at data and discuss the possibility of her joining our 8th grade Attendance Circle.
After reviewing the outcome data, the counselors were given full support by their administration to continue this type of small group counseling during the upcoming school year. We would like to begin this type of small group counseling earlier in the school year, ideally in October. We hope by starting the group earlier in the fall we could intervene before any absences go over twenty.
We would also like to have a 7th grade small group and an 8th grade small group allowing us to focus on their different experiences. Seventh graders are adjusting to the start of middle school compared to eighth graders who are thinking ahead about high school. We also hope this would allow students to feel more connected and comfortable with their peers.
To address the discrepancy between full day and period absences, counselors will analyze the periods being missed and will work with students and parents on the impact of arriving to school late or checking out early. Mr. Fishman and Ms. Turner developed the “Maintenance” piece of this intervention. They did not want to end the group without a follow up plan. Counselors plan to evaluate the Maintenance Period and see if a more involved intervention is needed. Counselors will also analyze the data to see if it would benefit students to extend the attendance circles for the remainder of the school
The successes of our Attendance Circle has allowed it to become a model program for other middle schools and high schools in Fairfax County Public Schools. Our feeder high school, Madison High School, has contacted Thoreau to gain insight on this approach to attendance. They plan to implement an Attendance Circle in the upcoming school year.
Mr. Fishman and Ms. Turner were also asked by the Restorative Justice Specialists from Fairfax County Public Schools to help with future FCPS Restorative Justice Professional Development. They will be attending four trainings throughout the 2016-2017 school year to present their successes and experiences. The trainings will be attended by school counselors and administrators.
Mr. Fishman and Ms. Turner plan to expand this program and also attend future Restorative Justice trainings, not only as presenters but as participants, so they can further their skills and knowledge on this topic. The outcome data proves this is a successful intervention and the counselors are excited to continue using this type of intervention at Thoreau Middle School.