A research grant from the Johns Hopkins University Everyone Graduates Center is providing a key resource for Montevallo High School to reach struggling students. Specifically the grant is providing a Promotion Coach that is working primarily to help promote ninth graders.
Donna Dickson, who retired from the Shelby County School District as the Student Services Coordinator, is currently working in the role two days a week. She said this is the first year that Montevallo High School was selected to participate in the grant, which will provide $36,000 in funding for the next two years to implement the program. Several other schools across the state are entering their second year of the program, but Montevallo was just selected to participate this year.
“We are working with the teachers to form intervention teams to discuss strategies to help specific students,” Dickson said. “What we have discovered is that a student might be struggling in one subject area, but not another. Meeting as a team allows us to figure out what might be going on.”
As part of the grant, the school held report card conferences at the end of the first nine week period with every ninth grade student, regardless of whether they were a struggling student or making good grades. They are scheduled to have a second conference on, Tuesday, January 21 to review second nine week/first semester grades.
Former teachers and community volunteers are used during the report card conferences as mentors to each student. Those with good grades receive praise and encouragement to validate their efforts. Those who are struggling are able to share specifically with the mentor any challenges they are facing that are preventing them from being successful.
Dickson gave one example of an English-as-a-Second language student who was struggling in only subject. She opened up to the volunteer mentor that she was having a difficult time understanding the concepts of the class.
“We were able to match her with a Spanish speaking senior student who is now serving as a tutor to help her understand the concepts,” Dickson said.
Additionally, Dickson is there to provide additional intervention support to students who are chronically absent or truant, which can significantly impact academic performance. Building relationships with the students enables her to seek additional resources and support once she is able to discover the problem.
“Finding out the reasons they are not at school is important,” she said. “Building those relationships with the students helps me to uncover what issues they might be dealing with at home that is putting them at risk.”