Mt. Marion Elementary School is making the most out of “Grand Rounds,” a team-based approach to student achievement. During a March 9 meeting of the Saugerties Board of Education, Principal Carole Kelder compared Grand Rounds to the collective efforts in the world of medicine.
“Think of the Grand Rounds team just like you would in the medical field where it’s everyone who works with the child,” Kelder said. “We believe in educating the whole child and working together to engage all community stakeholders.”
The Grand Rounds teams are comprised of teachers, administrators; school psychologists and social workers; speech and language teachers; and RTI (Response to Intervention) specialists, such as certified literacy teachers, special education teachers and teaching assistants. While the Grand Rounds teams connect on all of Mt. Marion’s 279 students, students who are at risk for a variety of reasons — everything from learning disabilities to social and emotional concerns to connectivity issues during remote learning will get considerable focus to try and get them on track.
“What’s really nice about Grand Rounds and why I love it so much is because they don’t look at ‘the score,’” Kelder said. “We look at everything which I think relates very nicely into our district goal of student achievement, where we’re talking about the whole child, and we’re talking about educating the whole child and looking at growth. Because it’s so important and we like to recognize and celebrate that growth for our students, it makes them feel great.
Helping students succeed is a collaborative effort.
“There has to be a lot of collaboration,” Kelder said. “We know that it is important to make connections (through) daily check-ins…We often review and we reflect on what it is that we’re doing. We try to see what’s working and what’s not working. And then if we have to modify again, we’ll modify again.”
Kelder said there are many reasons students struggle, and remote learning during the Covid-19 pandemic has magnified many of them. Kids who might be more inclined to pay attention in a classroom are sometimes disengaged over their Chromebook from home.
We do have instances where we have students that are in attendance, but the camera might be off and they’re not participating; they’re there and they’re doing the work, and so we want to find out, you know, why would the camera be off? Is there a reason, is there something that we can help you with?”
Kelder added that the lack of a standard school schedule may also mean kids aren’t going to bed as early as usual, and that can have an impact on how prepared they are for class.
“So we may have to suggest to them, let’s try to get you on a school routine,” Kelder said. “And we like to see little increments where those students will come back and they will begin to participate or show up more regularly than they would be before.”
Principal Kelder also noted that older students are currently struggling more than younger students.
There are 107 students in grades K-2 at Mt. Marion, with 21 of them fully remote. Eighty-nine percent of the cohort is passing ELA and 87 percent are passing math. Around 12 percent of K-2 students are considered at risk.
Of the 74 students in grades 3-4, 23 are currently remote. Eighty-one percent of the cohort is passing ELA and 79 percent are passing math, with around 20 percent of students considered at risk.
The downward trend continues in grades 5-6, where there are 80 students, including 24 currently studying remotely. Just 60 percent are passing ELA and 71 percent are passing math. Thirty-five percent of students in grades 5-6 are considered at risk.
“So they might need a little extra support,” Kelder said. That support may yield greater results once all students are back in the classroom.
Within the context of RTI, students are identified by tiers; Tier 2 students struggle, and those in Tier 3 are in need of greater intervention. According to Kelder, there are 36 students in Tier 2 for ELA achievement and a further 20 in Tier 3. Of those 56 total, 23 are fully remote, with only 12 of those participating regularly. But there is good news.
“I will say that this year, considering what we’ve been dealing with, with Covid and remote learning and trying to help students connect and engage, we have seen a reduction where students that have been identified as Tier 2 or Tier 3,” Kelder said.
Of the 56 total students in Tiers 2 and 3 for ELA, 40 have shown growth over the course of the school year, with four either being reduced a Tier or exited from RTI altogether. The numbers were similar in RTI math, with 40 of the 53 students in Tier 2 and Tier 3 showing growth; three of those will be reduced a Tier or exited from RTI.
Kelder credited the staff at the school with helping to try and keep students moving forward in a very difficult and confusing time.
“One of the things that we try to do at Mt. Marion is we always try to improve the climate and try to bring a sense of community in all that we do,” she said, adding that by engaging with families, the sense of community has only grown. “I think the most important thing that we can do to improve community is to build those relationships. And that could be just being outside saying hello, using students’ names, using parents’ names, staff being personable and approachable. And with all the things that we do, we try to keep those things in mind and try to be transparent.”
School Board President Robert Thomann said he was pleased by the presentation, one which also touched on how students have handled being back in the classroom since the district first adopted its hybrid learning model several months ago.
“It’s really good to hear what’s happening at the schools,” Thomann said. “I look forward to when we can meet again at your school and actually see some of those kids would interact with them for a little bit. I miss that.”