Knocking down barriers to success: Socioeconomically disadvantaged
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, Maquoketa Valley Middle School of the Maquoketa Valley Community School District explains what it does to maximize the education for students who come from socioeconomically disadvantaged homes.
Located in the northeast Iowa town of Delhi, Maquoketa Valley Middle School was honored by the State Board of Education for its work with students who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
Statewide, 68 percent of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are proficient in reading and math. But at Maquoketa Valley Middle School, 88 percent of those students are proficient.
So what’s going on at Maquoketa Valley Middle School? Principal Tracy Morrison explains.
What is the guiding philosophy of your school?
Our middle school philosophy centers around the district’s vision statement. The vision is not just words on a piece of paper. These statements provide the direction our middle school follows as we work together to help our students find success.
Our vision is based upon:
- Learning that is engaging, challenging, and focused.
- Frequent feedback and purposeful assessment.
- Timely response to all students’ needs.
- Shared responsibility for learning in a safe, respectful environment.
- Promotion of strong character and productive citizenship.
What particular challenges does your school face?
Our middle school faces the challenges of many rural communities. Many students are pulled in several directions between activities in and out of school. Many students have responsibilities at home and learn at an early age how to balance work at home with their work at school.
In addition, mental health needs are a growing concern each school year. With limited funding and resources, our guidance department shoulders a lot of responsibility when working with students and families as they coordinate services with local providers.
What, specifically, is your school doing to push all-student advancement?
There is a heavy emphasis on rigor and relevance in our professional development. In addition, all middle school teachers are involved in AIW (Authentic Intellectual Work) teams. These teams meet weekly and consist of content area teachers from the middle school and high school. The sharing and conversations that surround the AIW work keeps the focus on increasing student engagement through a rigorous and relevant curriculum.
We have a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) coach who coordinates our interventions for students with behavior and academic concerns. When problems arise, teachers submit a “ticket” and the MTSS coach meets with the teacher and building principal. Intervention plans are put into place and reviewed on a regular basis to determine if the intervention is working. Our MTSS team, consisting of our guidance counselor, MTSS coach, and building principal, meet regularly to review student data including attendance, grades, behavior and/or academic concerns. An instructional coach is available to the middle school to help teachers with the alignment of unit plans, assessments, and teaching strategies.
In order to help students stay on top of their responsibilities at school, teachers post late work on our Whatever I Need (WIN) document. This document is reviewed at the beginning of each study hall and during our daily WIN time by supervisors. This document is a wonderful communication tool keeping staff aware of any student who needs to complete assignments. We also have content area teachers willing to stay after school for homework assistance. It is important to hold students accountable for their work while providing them with the supports necessary for them to be successful.
What, specifically, is your school doing to push the advancement of students who receive free and reduced-price meals?
We offer additional support to students during “Whatever I Need” (WIN) time. Each day for 30 minutes following lunch, students in the middle school work on literacy or math interventions in small groups. These interventions are helping to fill identified gaps in student learning. If based upon student data no intervention is needed, students are divided into classrooms where they have access to other content area teachers if they have questions about classwork.
We also offer Structured Study Halls during the school day. These study halls provide students with a smaller group in a quiet setting to work on assignments. Structured study halls are supported by either an associate or content area teacher.
What advice would you like to share with your contemporaries?
Our school is made up of staff members who are willing to collaborate with one another and work hard to assist our students. Staff members also recognize the importance of building relationships with students. The middle school takes great pride in working together to meet the needs of all students who walk into our building.