Knocking down barriers to success: Hispanic students
Students present unique challenges to teachers. But those challenges can be exacerbated among certain groups of students who historically have underperformed.
Those groups – ranging from students whose native language isn’t English to those on the lower spectrum of the socioeconomic scale – are a part of what is called the education gap: the academic difference between white students who aren’t from economically challenged families and the students belonging to the historically challenged subgroups.
The Iowa State Board of Education recognized that closing the gap is critical for students – and the state’s long-term success. So 15 years ago, the board created the Breaking Barriers to Teaching and Learning Award, designed to recognize schools that have worked to overcome the education gap.
This year, five schools were honored for their work over the 2015-16 school year. Here, Oak Ridge Middle School of the Linn-Mar Community School District explains what it does to help Hispanic students succeed academically.
Located in the eastern Iowa city of Marion, Oak Ridge Middle School was honored by the State Board of Education for its work with Hispanic students.
Among Hispanic students at the middle school, a full 98 percent are proficient in reading and math. That compares to a statewide average of 66 percent.
So what is Oak Ridge Middle School doing? Principal Erica Rausch explains.
What is the guiding philosophy of your school?
At Linn-Mar the guiding philosophy is to Inspire Learning, Unlock Potential, Empower Achievement. When we speak of that philosophy, we are referring to all students. We meet collaboratively in cross-curricular and content grade-level teams daily. During those meetings we are able to discuss the needs of all students and work to meet their individual needs.
What particular challenges does your school face?
The constant is the amount of time we have each day and the variable is the amount of content we cover at the middle level and there is the challenge. We are trying to meet student’s individual needs socially, emotionally and academically. This is difficult in the confines of the school day.
To help with this we have incorporated FLEX time four days a week. This time is 30 minutes of specific intervention or extension of the identified essential learning outcomes. Students who are not in need of the intervention/extension are reading during the 30 minutes. Having time built in the day to make sure all students are proficient on the identified priority standards has proven to show growth for all students.
On the fifth day we have Olweus. That is a 30-minute time where students meet in a group of 12-15 students with an adult in the building to work on our anti-bullying content. That time may be spent with team building activities, community service or just talking about all the dynamics of the relational issues of school.
During the school day meeting, the needs of students with Individualized Education Programs can also prove challenging. We have found that we can meet those needs during scheduled in-school homework time, so no student misses core instruction. We can also meet with students during FLEX time. This again does not interrupt any core instruction. This time with students with IEP goals is time to work on their individualized instruction. We have been able to see good growth and close the achievement gap for many of our students.
What, specifically, is your school doing to push all-student advancement?
We have spent time creating essential learning outcomes for all units of study. We have spent time creating proficiency scales to match the essential learning outcomes so we can determine student proficiency. During daily team time, teachers are able to meet to discuss how students are advancing on the essential learning outcomes. Content teachers have schedules that mirror one another, so they can flex students during the mod based on student needs. Teachers realize that they are not the same when it comes to how they teach. That is the art of teaching. Sometimes different styles or different strategies presented to students help them to understand the content. We want to allow students every opportunity to learn and advance in all subjects.
None of the work was done thinking about particular sub-groups of students or other defining status. The work was done thinking about all of our students and what all students need regardless of what sub-group they belong to.
What, specifically, is your school doing to push the advancement of Hispanic students?
We do not target any group within our school. We have changing demographics each year. We have students who need all sorts of different supports and interventions. We work on our repertoire of strategies and focus on good teaching. It is good teaching and good strategies that promote advancement. That has shown effective with our Hispanic students, but I know it has proven effective with all of our students.
We look at student data in all aspects of their school day during team meetings once every three weeks. Those meetings include teachers, counselors, administrators and coaches. During those meetings we focus on whatever factor is getting in the way of success for the student. We then come up with an intervention plan that we all commit to.
What advice would you like to share with your contemporaries?
It is important to meet the needs of all students. We don’t single out groups of students to focus on. We work to have all students be proficient in all areas of their learning. We focus on building relationships with students. We focus on the whole child and understanding the uniqueness of middle level students. They are not an elementary student and they are not a high school student. Their development is unique and our teaching needs to best meet the needs of their uniqueness. If you invest in the students they will invest in themselves and together you can inspire their learning, unlock their potential and empower their achievement.