‘At-risk’ students targeted for help

GLOVERSVILLE – While the Gloversville Enlarged School District struggles to find a way to improve the graduation rate of students, administrators at the high school have implemented an “at-risk” program that provides help and support for everyday curriculum and has added incentives along the way.

The Assistant Principal Mark Batty had a $1,000 donation from Walmart approved by the Board of Education on Monday that will be used to fund a sophomore trip for “at-risk” students to Boston.

Batty said when he first came to the district he realized the need to take a serious look at the heart and core of where the district was struggling.

“We were struggling with our graduation rate and regular attendance, but as I looked at it a little closer I realized that the dropout rate and graduation rate are directly linked with kids who struggle initially in high school,” Batty said. “Some ninth graders come in and just don’t make the transition well. They could struggle academically and just don’t feel comfortable or have some behavior or attendance issues. For whatever reason, transitioning to high school can be difficult for anyone and it is significantly more difficult if the student struggles academically.”

He said the problems the “at-risk” students have can be something as simple as getting glasses for students who don’t have health coverage. Batty said other problems can be more difficult to address, such as mental health issues that require counseling.

However, he said, it all comes down to “getting to the core of what each kid needs to succeed.”

In an attempt to make a change, Batty said, he started cross referencing students who had discipline, attendance and academic issues to develop a list of “at-risk” students who struggle in many of those areas.

“We targeted that group because traditionally students that don’t do well when coming from eighth and ninth grade struggle the whole time through high school,” Batty said. “A lot of times by the third quarter in their sophomore year that’s when they will drop out because they come of age. We thought if we could help those kids and get them through their sophomore year, we would have a better chance of keeping these kids right straight through until graduation.”

He said the high school has always had an “at-risk” program to highlight students that may struggle or have other issues who affect their school work, but last year was the first time it implemented the transition team to aid the students highlighted.

Batty said the transition team is a group of volunteer teachers and faculty at the high school who have skills in behavior management and the ability to make connections with students. The team meets once a week to discuss strategies for the students and try to find a mentor for each student.

He said when he or the teachers see an at-risk student doing well and making an effort to improve in school, they will reward them with retail and food gift certificates or a special trip.

This year, he said, the program will take the sophomore group to Boston. They have made trips to New York City for the program already.

“The kids are really just looking for someone to actually care about them,” Batty said.

Batty said this year’s sophomore class was the biggest at risk group he’s had since coming to Gloversville High School in the 2008-09 school year.

However, Batty said he has had the most success with this group of students.

“In two years, if we continue to go the way we are headed, we should see a significant improvement in our graduation rate,” Batty said.

Principal Richard DeMallie said out of the senior class of 202 students, 26 are failing two or more courses and have been sent letters to inform them additional effort is needed in order to graduate this year. The sophomore class has 37 students that are at a freshmen level, he said, and the school is working to get them caught up by June.

Batty estimated the graduation rate for 2012 was 58.6 percent. DeMallie said if they can help the 37 students currently behind schedule, “we could be scratching the door of 80 percent.”

Batty said he has talked about doing it at the middle school and have had discussion of doing the same thing for their incoming fifth graders, but didn’t know how far that has progressed.

“We want to look at an at risk program in the middle school whether that is project based learning, which will give students a more hands on learning experience, or maybe work with BOCES for an alternative education program,” Superintendent Michael Vanyo said about the “at-risk” program after the meeting. “What I like about the high school is they are targeting students that are struggling a little bit so we don’t lose them and they don’t drop out.”

Levi Pascher covers Gloversville news. He can be reached by email at gloversville@leaderherald.com.