This past weekend I attended a parent engagement workshop (see my reflections here), and since then I have been thinking about an example that I provided where our Intermediate Student Success Teacher (ISST) is reaching out to local businesses to establish a program aimed at keeping our most at risk students engaged and committed to school. Shelley Neill, our ISST, has spent the last several months researching and developing a program that will run in cycles throughout the year, targeting students who are at risk for a variety of reasons, including their own or family members’ mental health and/or substance abuse issues, learning disabilities and lack of success in school, behavioural concerns and a variety of other factors that mix and mingle to make school a more difficult place for these students to spend time. The bottom line is that these kiddos are the ones that are most likely to consider dropping out prior to completing high school. In a recent blog post on truancy, I blogged about the importance of a caring adult who will hold tight to our at risk students, through thick and thin, to keep them in school. For many of our at risk students, Shelley is that person at our school.
The connections that she is establishing with local business owners, while a project in its early days, is one that I think will serve at least 2 purposes and one that I think holds the promise of many unexpected benefits. To begin with, local businesses will have a connection to our school and will know more of our students as individuals. My hope is that this will create an atmosphere of greater trust between the school and the businesses, some of which are less than 100 metres from our front door. When our students are out and about beyond school hours, they may be seen in a more positive light.
The second positive of the project, and the one that is more immediately a benefit to our at risk students, is that the partnerships will provide opportunity for mentorship. If Shelley is successful in matching students to businesses, there will be a human connection made, and imagine the impact of having a member of the community, previously a stranger, becoming another caring adult to advocate and support the students. As students meet with and work with the business owners and community members, they will be learning the skills that they will need to undertake similar endeavours after their schooling. It may be that for some of our at risk students, these mentoring relationships will give them the fuel they need to continue on with their schooling.
Ultimately, I believe that many of our at risk students feel that they are powerless to change their lives. Shelley’s program will marry the business/community partnerships with an in school program aimed to encourage students to see themselves as agents of change within their own lives. Her program, the result of several years of working with at risk students as well as research into current trends and practices, is rigorous and frank in its approach. She tells students that she is going to “stick to you like a wet kleenex” to ensure that they are successful in the program.
While students will miss some in class time — a few hours per week — while working with Shelley, the benefit of their participation will spill over into their studies as they become more committed and engaged to making change for the better in their lives. Also, with Shelley playing an integral role within our intermediate team, all staff members learn from her in her approach and dedication to our most vulnerable students. I feel very hopeful and optimistic about the potential for real change as students work with community and business partners through this incredible program. I’ll keep you posted ;o)
Note: I used the image of a sherpa carrying a heavy load because I think that as caring adults this is sometimes our role when working with students – carry the load so that the journey can continue.