As a 7th and 8th grade building, Ridgeview sees many students who struggle to manage the transition between a sheltered and highly-structured middle school to the much faster-paced, independent requirements of a junior high year. We also feel it is imperative to prepare our students to give them the best possible opportunity to begin their high school with the work habits and self-confidence that will ensure them access to the best possible college or career goals. Nearly ten years ago, Ridgeview’s counselors, with input from the school psychologist, Mr. Brenner, wrote a United Way grant for funding to hire a teacher to serve as a coach to the population of non-disabled, at-risk students by providing daily, direct, small group instruction that allowed for greater communication between the school and family, daily monitoring, and incentives to help improve students’ grades. WISE specifically focuses on improving grades and increasing self-confidence for students who have shown a pattern of poor test performance, poor attendance, and anyone who has been retained for a year. WISE also serves students who need extra support on a social-emotional level or would benefit from a small group environment with supportive peers and adults.
In order to choose students to participate in the program, we approach the middle school counselors for a list of students who they believe are at risk of not succeeding in 7th grade because of poor study habits. The counselors then meet with the school’s teams after a few weeks of the school year to identify students who are struggling with the demands of junior high through poor grades, missing work, past history of poor attendance, low test scores, and troubling interpersonal issues. Although many students initially join WISE at the start of the program (3 or so weeks into the school year), the program is designed to allow for students to join at any point if they demonstrate the need. Counselors and WISE coaches continue to monitor students who may be WISE candidates in order to provide interventions to any student across the school, often transfer students who struggle socially and academically to their new surroundings. The program exists specifically for non-special education students because special education students are already guaranteed services and interventions. For those students who do not show improvement in the WISE program, we may look at testing for special education services since this kind of intervention does not help them and they may require more specialized services.
WISE is formed around the understanding that a small-group, direct instruction approach yields the best results. Classes are kept small, typically between 5 and 10 students, in order to allow each student to receive highly individualized help and reinforcement of critical skills such as test taking strategies, goal setting skills, organization, and other important lessons. Because these interventions are so effective, we are typically able to see students for a grading period, then move them out of the WISE class, enabling us to serve more students.
We have always collected data around grade improvement and self perception but we are now collecting data concerning attendance. The data from the 2016-2017 school year shows impressive results: 89% of students saw an increase in their mean grade average from the start of WISE. This far exceeds our program goal of 70% improvement. For the attendance rate, we saw that 70% of students either improved their attendance from the previous year or had less than 10 absences. Most students saw significant improvement in both of these areas, but others still struggled or even saw a decline. We would like to see significant increase in the amount of students served: with 2 coaches, we expected to see far more students. Many students, however, needed support for more than one grading period which limited the number of new students we could add.
Moving forward, we will begin to collect different kinds of data to hopefully represent some of the non-measurable gains that we have seen in WISE students. For example, some students did not significantly improve their grades, but they significantly reduced the amount of missing work they had. Others had impressive behavior gains because they had an outlet to talk through anger and vent about their problems. There are many reasons why a student may not respond to an intervention, but success can be demonstrated beyond the facts and figures on the page.