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Connecting vulnerable students to services

A school created a way to manage services and programs

student-servicesThe small, tight-knit community of Eudora, Kan., is nestled between two college towns to the west of Kansas City. With just 1,600 students, our district is committed to helping connect each one of our students to valuable services to help them succeed in academics and in life.

We have an amazing community, schools, and students. And we also know that children in small towns are not immune to the darker sides of growing up. Small communities face many of the same challenges that larger communities face, but often with fewer resources at our disposal. As a community, we wanted to do our best to reduce risk factors that impair learning, such as bullying and other forms of violence; depression, anxiety, and other health concerns; and alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use. We especially wanted to increase the protective factors that make us resilient, such as helping students develop strong and healthy social, emotional and decision-making skills that will have them college, career, and life-ready.

As part of a Safe Schools/Health Students (SSHS) grant initiative, we were able to pull together community resources and services for our students. However, we quickly realized that it is not enough to have programs in place. We needed a management system to ensure equity in access to important community resources, services, and programs, and that would actually identify needs and connect students to services. Unless we could close the leaky pipeline in the identification and referral process, students were going to continue to slip through the cracks without getting the help they needed.

Closing the cracks for vulnerable students

Our community wanted to bring in additional resources and services through SSHS, and implement evidence-based programs and practices like Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS).

(Next page: A student services solution)But without a quick and efficient data infrastructure, there is really no way to know if we are being effective. And without that data infrastructure, the implementation and institutionalization of these best practices is both slow and difficult.

Like most districts, Eudora has an SIS system for grades and attendance. But other types of data that help us understand how well students are progressing, or problems that might be holding them back, were being kept in lots of different ways with little consistency and no ability to pull it all together. The result: too many ways things can fall through the cracks despite our best efforts.

We worked with Dr. Mariam Azin and PRES Associates to develop a software-based system to manage and coordinate our resources and services while streamlining the identification, referral, and progress monitoring process. Because PRES Associates worked with similar types of projects across the country, they saw the same themes, needs, and barriers emerge regardless of size or location, and quickly grasped the direction we wanted to go. The system we worked on eventually evolved into Mazin EnCompass, an early identification, referral, and progress monitoring program that helps districts make sure that students who struggle for any reason are connecting to and benefiting from the services and programs that can help.

Designing the perfect system

We wanted a system that would not require double data entry like others we had been familiar with, and one that would instantly put the data at the fingertips of those who need it.  We wanted a system that would pull together our PBIS discipline information along with referrals for any need (academic, social, emotional, or behavioral services) in a way that would talk to our SIS. And we wanted to be able to look at the data at three levels, with all of the appropriate firewalls and privacy settings:

  • At the teacher level to make decisions and adjustments in classroom environment and teaching strategies;
  • At the building and district level to make decisions about resources and school climate needs; and
  • At the individual level to help make sure students have access to the academic and other supports they need to reach their potential.

PRES Associates worked with us to design a system that fit all of our criteria and worked smoothly with our internal policies and procedures.

“As a former teacher, I know I saw the effect of social, emotional and behavioral issues on student performance, attitudes, and virtually everything else. But I was not always sure what to do about it,” said Don Grosidider, superintendent of schools. “Teachers benefit from this tool because it is quick and efficient. It’s not burdensome, so they are willing to use it. They feel better when they feel like their concerns are far less likely to fall through the cracks.”

Lessons learned

To improve identification and services referral for student needs, we’ve learned two practices that have fundamentally shifted our approach:
1.    As part of our integrated Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS), we routinely assess for academic and behavioral health needs, and
2.    We use Mazin EnCompass for all referrals and data keeping, whether for academics, behavior or other needs.

When you start a large, comprehensive initiative, the immediate challenges include clarifying roles, developing effective procedures, orienting everyone, and creating a new common language and value system, as well as a new common understanding of how everything interrelates and connects to student development and performance. Knowing the signs of need, when to refer, how to refer and to whom to refer can be challenging and time consuming.

A system that automates most of these decisions means our main focus is encouraging staff to refer at the earliest sign of any academic, social, emotional or behavioral need. This makes for a user-friendly experience. We also can get quick feedback about progress and see whether the data is showing improvement.

A brighter future for Eudora students

Automating our identification and referral process has allowed us to focus on student needs instead of paperwork, and has vastly increased our success rate connecting students with the programs and services that can benefit them. Along with our SIS, Mazin EnCompass is our major data management tool. Not only does it allow a consistent, quick and effective way to connect students to resources and services, it provides mechanisms for follow-up and progress monitoring.

“We’ve always recognized the range of issues that can impact students’ lives,” Grosdidier said. “SSHS allowed us to bring in more services and enhance some of our own practices. The online system is the tool that allows us to connect up all those dots.”

Christina Mann is the Director of Student Development and Partnerships in the Eudora School District.

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