The Greenville News: Partnerships keep students OnTrack
For both parents and children, the middle school years can be an exciting time filled with change, challenge and possibility. While children are coming into their own as independent, thoughtful young people, emotions and awkwardness can also run high.
To use a popular phrase I hear in the hallways, the struggle is real.
Now imagine going through the critical middle school years without a steady family income. How about without a safe, stable place to sleep? No transportation and sporadic hot meals, clean clothes and showers?
How would you be able to cope? How would you perform on a test?
Unfortunately, for too many of our youth in Greenville County and all across our country, this is their daily reality. We know the weight of poverty is too much for a middle school student to carry alone, and too complex to be lifted solely by teachers and their schools. It will take everyone getting involved - schools, businesses, nonprofits and government - to solve it.
In Greenville County, we are at the forefront of a national trend toward this type of community collaboration thanks to the OnTrack Greenville initiative.
Middle school is a time for students to explore their strengths and start to think about their future. But, it is also a time when too many students start to disengage and take the first steps on the path toward dropping out of high school, putting their futures at risk.
By intervening in these critical middle grade years, OnTrack Greenville seeks to stop disengagement before it happens and help those students stay on track to a bright and productive future.
Made possible by a federal Social Innovation Fund grant that is matched dollar-for-dollar by local funds, OnTrack Greenville is changing the way we keep students on track to high school graduation and future success by bringing collaboration and data-driven decisions to the core of our work. This place-based and student-centered initiative is focused on improving the attendance, behavior and course grades (ABCs) of middle school students in Greenville County, which are the three most important early warning indicators for students falling off track to graduation.
We cannot expect schools to improve the ABCs without support from parents, families and community partners, because the root causes of early-warning indicators often lay outside of the classroom, and the support needed to address them requires community expertise and parent support. This is especially true for OnTrack Greenville schools, which have more than 90 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunch.
At these schools, students who start to fall off track for one or more of the ABCs are identified in real time and show up on an electronic data dashboard available to school staff and administrators. Weekly collaborative meetings are held for each grade level at the schools to focus on students who are falling off track. Students' needs are discussed individually so interventions can be tailored to their unique circumstances and an advocate makes sure the interventions chosen are implemented and work.
These meetings often include teachers, administrators, counselors, social workers, mental health specialists and community partners. Each of these adults holds different pieces of information about students. Once the off-track causes are identified, community partners including Communities in Schools, Building Educated Leaders for Life, Greenville Health System and Public Education Partners, and other existing resources are providing services to support students and their families.
Now that the OnTrack meetings have become a part of the school culture, there is increased capacity of the staff members to work together and solve student and family challenges. The teams are focused on understanding the underlying causes of the student challenges and alleviating those barriers.
The meetings have helped us prioritize our work, so we are working smarter and more efficiently to best serve students. We take comfort knowing our students are being cared for by interventions and a system of support.
We are proud to be at the forefront of innovation through this exciting use of data championed and developed by Greenville County Schools and the alignment of community support in schools championed by United Way of Greenville County and key community partners and funders.
We value innovation and community alignment in education and believe OnTrack Greenville is our best chance for school success for students and addressing the systemic issues of poverty.
Latonia Copeland is principal of Lakeview Middle School. For more information, visit www.ontrackgreenville.org.