South counselors developed academic, behavioral, and attendance data profiles for the 15-16 school year. Behaviorally, male students were responsible for nearly 70% of referrals for violent, aggressive, or unsafe behavior. Academically, 70% of students who failed to earn a GPA of 2.0 or above for the 15-16 school year were male. Furthermore, male students receiving special education services were failing to earn a GPA of 2.0 or above at a significantly higher rate than their peers who were not on Individualized Education Plans. Of the 39 students on I.E.P.’s who failed to meet the 2.0 requirement during the 15-16 school year, 30 were male. Thus, while overall the student services team was concerned for the extent to which our male students were struggling behaviorally and academically, the gap in academic performance between male students on I.E.P.s and that of their peers was simply too large to not address if we are to fulfil our vision of ALL students finding significance in their contributions that improve our world.
Working collaboratively with South’s three grade-level special education teachers, special education department chair, and four paraprofessionals, myriad interventions were developed and/or improved upon at the start of the 16-17 school year. A behavioral reinforcement system (Bobcat Cards) was implemented, the Study Skills class curriculum underwent revisions to more closely follow our school-wide AVID model, and additional trainings on accommodations versus modifications were delivered to all staff. Further interventions were informed by a student needs assessment and included individual coaching on how students could best use their Infinite Campus portal to monitor grades and missing assignments, weekly incentives for students with zero missing assignments, technical guidance for parents to set up their Infinite Campus portals and district supported trainings for paraprofessionals to refine in-class instructional support.
At the end of semester one of the 16-17 school year academic summaries were developed and the performance of male students on I.E.P.’s was reviewed. Significant improvement in the academic performance of the class of 2020 (9th grade for 16-17 school year) was achieved. Similar levels of improvement were not evident for 7th or 8th grade students. Counselors held informal discussions with multiple students in the target group at the end of semester one. It became evident that additional academic and organizational interventions would be not be effective if student hope, as defined by Snyder (1994) was not improved. Therefore, in an effort to close the gap within a gap that had emerged and to more clearly quantify the direct impact of an intervention delivered by a school counselor, individual counseling session plans were developed for 7th and 8th grade students in the target group. The submitted Closing the Gap Results Report documents the outcomes and implications of an individual counseling intervention guided by Hope Theory (Snyder, 2000) delivered to 8th grade students. Additional interventions tied to the results report included the student and counselor calling home weekly to update on academic progress and a lunch incentive for any student with zero missing assignments at the end of quarter three.
Unfortunately, the results report goal was not met. While the number of 8th grade males receiving special education services earning a GPA of 2.0 or below moved from 10 at semester to 8 at the end of quarter 3, this fell short of the 40% reduction goal. Perception data collected using a the Domain Specific Hope Scale (Sympson, 1999) indicates a slight increase in academic hope, from a pre-test average of 30 points to a post-test average of 37 (scores can range from 8 to 64). Upon reflecting on the limited success of the intervention, the counselors believe that the individual counseling sessions should either extend through the entire second semester, or be delivered during quarter two with intermittent follow up second semester. Additional considerations include supplementing the existing Academic Support small group that focuses on skill building with the social/emotional focus on the hope intervention and including a greater number of special education students in the group. Moreover, discussions are ongoing as to how family buy-in can be increased and families efforts more fully supported by staff of South Junior High. Nevertheless, taken in total, the larger Closing the Gap goal was successfully met, going from 30 male students on I.E.P.s earning a GPA of 2.0 or below in 15-16 school year to 22 for the 16-17 school year.