Students at Saugerties High School (SHS) are struggling with learning during the Covid-19 pandemic, as many of them are either learning remotely or within the hybrid model. During a sobering presentation to the board of education last week, SHS Principal Timothy Reid outlined some of the problems students are facing, and how the school was working to help.
“The results of this pandemic are disturbing,” said Reid during the virtual meeting held on Tuesday, January 12. “The amount of kids that aren’t engaged across the state, and I would dare say the country, is astronomical. Myself and my team are trying to put as many things together as we can to not only do what we’re doing now, but also to prepare for a future where students are going to have large gaps in their education and where students are going to have to recover from deficits and gaining credits here at the high school …. There is going to be a huge mountain ahead of us over the next few years because of this.”
High proportion of failures
In the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year, 78 Saugerties students in ninth grade, representing 47 percent of the class, failed at least one course. Some 74 sophomores, 36 percent of the class, failed at least one course. Of the current juniors, 52, or 24 percent of the class, failed at least one course. And 47 seniors, or 28 percent of the Class of 2021, failed at least one course.
The presentation analyzed chronic absences, students who’ve missed at least five full days, between November 2 of last year and January 5 of this year. The freshman class had 41 students with chronic absences, around a quarter of the class. Such absences lessened in the higher grades, with 37 sophomores (18 percent), 13 juniors (six percent) and four seniors (two percent) considered chronically absent.
Participation, or students attending some classes and not others, has also been a problem. “We have an issue now where students are picking and choosing classes they want to go to, and picking and choosing classes they don’t want to go to,” said Reid.
SHS freshmen are struggling the most, with 71 students, or 43 percent. In the sophomore class, 76 students, or 37 percent, missed at least ten percent of at least one class. Those numbers too fell among junior s (46 students, 22 percent) and seniors (25 students, 15 percent).
Boosting student achievement
There was some good news to report. In the first quarter, 83 percent of the 98 SHS students in Boces courses passed, with 51 percent of the 98 students achieving a grade of 90 percent or higher. Three students dropped out of Boces, while six did not complete the requirements for their courses.
Shannon Krum, assistant principal for grades 9-11 at Saugerties High, said that weekly senior-high support meetings were among the initiatives to help with student achievement. “We meet with counselors, nurses, psychologists, our social worker and the SRO (Student Resource Officer Travis Winchell) on a weekly basis to identify students who might be struggling and figure out what that reason is,” said Krum, “and then develop a plan, a strategy, for how we’re going to reach out, make a connection, and try to work with them through that.”
Winchell has been mentoring 13 students, eleven of whom have shown academic improvement since the beginning of the school year.
The high school is also offering core assistance for students who are in remote learning and can’t make appointments for after-school work with teachers on campus. “For English, social studies, science and math, we have one content-area specialist set aside to assist our remote students that might be struggling for one period in a day,” Krum said.
In a peer check-in program for the spring, members of the student council will help mentor students who are struggling. The concept was explained by Jillian Murphy, one of two student representatives to the school board.
“One of our ideas is that a student will be matched with a mentor so they can reach out at any time,” said Murphy. “That person might not always be able to answer, so we would have a Google Doc with a couple of mentors in it, so a student could go into the document and ask for help or say what they need to say, and multiple mentors … can answer that person.”
Principal Reid said that the mentoring would be under the supervision of faculty.
“Student council has been very active in producing lots of ideas, so whatever system we come up with is going to help kids and allow students to be role models without putting anybody at risk,” Reid said.
Trusting relationships needed
A three-tiered credit recovery program is being discussed for spring, covering everything from simple assignment recovery to a deeper review for course recovery. A formal credit recovery program using the APEX credit system that would see a panel of professionals determine what a student needed to do to recover from a failing or low passing grade.
Reid expressed optimism that the district will be able to truly get back on track once the pandemic is over and students fully return to the classroom. “There’s nothing that can take the place of a student being in a room with a teacher, nothing,” he said. “That’s where relationships are built …. When those relationships are built, that’s how you leverage change. That’s how you get students to buy in and take risks, when they have a trusting relationship. And that’s part of our secret sauce that’s missing right now, because students and teachers are not in the same room and they’re struggling trying to find ways to connect …. The sooner we come back full-time, the better off we’re going to be. I’m hoping that it’s sooner than later.”