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Re-entering and Re-engaging in School After the Pandemic

By: Howard Blonsky, credentials - SSWAA Workshop Series Author / Oxford University Press

Although my book in the SSWAA Workshop series is about becoming a dropout prevention specialist, some of the material in the book seems particularly relevant now. The estimates are that some 400,000 young people are disengaged from online learning during the long months of being away from their school. Some of these students will not be returning to school at all and may be listed as dropouts. Many others who return will have fallen significantly behind academically, and large numbers of high school students have not earned the credits needed to move on to the next grade. Many English Language Learners who live in monolingual homes have made little progress with their acculturation and language proficiency. Foster youth who often lack continuity in their education, may have fallen even further behind. Others will need mental health assistance and a great number will need various forms of support in order to re-engage in school and find success.

I have come to believe that about 70% of returning students will be able to re-enter without much difficulty, and about 30% will need programmatic and instructional modifications. Many middle and high school students will need increased structure, monitoring and personalization. These changes will require systemic changes and many staff roles will have to be re-thought.

I believe that School Social Workers are in a unique position to identify student needs, and to advocate for making the necessary changes to address this new reality. Some programs will have to be re-configured, and others will need to be built from the ground up. It will be a time when increased collaboration and flexibility on everyone’s part will be crucial.

Of course School Social Workers cannot address all of these needs and develop new programs on their own. As is so common to our role, we can help to insure that team structures are in place to define student needs, and help implement the programs and the range opportunities, services and supports that will be needed.

Certainly serving on the leadership team is a great place to advocate. Needed systemic changes will not be able be implemented without the approval of this important committee. For addressing student level needs, I believe there will need to be student support structures such as the School Coordinated Care Team, (hereafter called the CARE team) where all support staff gather regularly to discuss students of concern, and assess trends or patterns in the issues/ needs manifest in the student population. The Student Success Team (SST) needs to be in place where students and their caregivers come together with teachers and support staff to look closely at an individual student and develop a plan of success. The School Attendance Review Team (SART) will be busy monitoring those students whose attendance is marginal, and reaching out to those who are not attending. In one middle school that I worked in members of the CARE team would meet with the teachers of each grade level to discuss their students of concern and work to develop a holistic plan with shared responsibilities.

At the elementary level in particular, many students will need some individual or small group instruction/remediation. Some will need therapeutic services as well, particularly if a member of their immediate family or extended family has died or suffered from the virus. Middle and high school students will need to have skill development options, as well as therapeutic services. There will also be a need for some credit recovery options. Here are a few possibilities to make up course credit.

  • Individual subject learning packets that students can complete on their own.

  • Individual Small Group Instruction (ISGI). From an analysis of subtest scores on state group tests, students are grouped into small groups based on their skill needs.

  • Teachers working with students after school to make up full or partial credits.

  • After the school year ends, an intensive two week program with core subject teachers to help the student(s) show competency in the course material they have failed or did not complete. If the student can show a satisfactory level of competency to the teacher, they are given credit for the course.

At the high school level there will be a rather large group of students who have not been engaged in the online learning, have flunked a number of core courses, and, as I mentioned, will need more structure, monitoring and personalization. I call these Re-Entry programs or options, and some models are defined below:

1. Student Support and Assistance Program (SSAP)

  • Students in this program take a first hour English “block” class that is co-taught by two SSAP teachers. The last 30 minutes of this class is enrichment.

  • The last class of the day is Algebra, which is also taught by an SSAP teacher.

  • Check in is done twice a day.

  • Attendance is monitored by daily phone calls, home visits, and parent/guardian conferences.

  • Character education and values clarification is provided. Classroom guidance is provided by the teachers and social work and counseling services are available.

2. CORE program:

  • Five teachers and a counselor/social worker agree to work together as a team. They agree to a common prep for planning and conferencing. They coordinate their strategies with individual students, something that is almost impossible in a traditional high school setting. Materials and lesson plans are shared and coordinated.

  • The students remain as a “CORE” group throughout the day in one classroom for all classes. The teachers leave their own classrooms and do the moving to the students rather than the other way around.

  • Counselor/social worker meet weekly with teachers to discuss students.

  • Parent/guardian conferences are held with all program staff during weekly meetings. Student attendance, progress, and other concerns are addressed.

  • Communication and coordination are strong components of the program.

3. Mission Model:

  • For students returned to school after having dropped our, repeat 9th graders, and others who have less than 60 credits.

  • Students are interviewed by the program teacher(s) and a dropout prevention specialist/counselor.

  • The student is programmed into three AM classes within the Re-Entry program (English, World Civilization and Math). This schedule can be modified if the student has already completed one or more of these courses/credits.

  • Variable credit is offered for these courses so that students can earn one credit at at time, (based on a 5 unit per course model for each course), therefore helping the students to see some growth rather than passing or failing the entire course.

4. Academic/Vocational Re-Entry program:

  • Program is housed in a technical/vocational high school.

  • Students attend three or four classes in the Re-Entry program in the morning, and take a vocational/technical program in the afternoon.

  • The class is self-contained. Students stay with the same multi-credentialed teacher all morning.

  • Study skills and other high school success skills are integrated into the curriculum.

5. Back on Track program:

  • A one semester “back on track” transitional program for those students who are recovered from having dropped out, who are seriously disengaged, or whose attendance is so poor that returning to a comprehensive high school is unworkable at the time of re-entry.

  • The program (previously implemented in San Francisco Unified) was developed out of a need for students who felt they could not go back, or “make it” in a comprehensive high school. These students needed either a “transitional” program to return either to a comprehensive high school, a GED program, preparation to take the high school proficiency exam, adult school or community college (depending on age), and other programs that may be available in the larger community.

  • The program included six staff members: A program lead school social worker, two teachers, a counselor/work experience coordinator, and a case manager/activities coordinator.

6. Continuation School and Job Corps Partnership program:

  • Students attend a Small Necessary or Continuation high school in the morning for academic subjects.

  • Students are transferred to a Job Corp site in the afternoon for career preparation courses that can lead to apprenticeships in various unions.

  • Course credit toward high school graduation, as well as GED preparation, are both offered. Often the Job Corps center does not offer certain courses that the district might, and the district may not provide those programs and experiences available at the Job Corps center. Often both programs can yield state apportionment credit, therefore, making it a win-win situation for both.

For more information on this topic, see The Drop-out Prevention Specialist Workbook published by Oxford University Press, written for School Social Workers and other school personnel.

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