A Check & Connect mentor and student in conversation.

After a 75 percent drop in school absences and a 62 percent decline in suspensions last school year among students enrolled in the Institute’s Check & Connect intervention program, commissioners in St. Louis County recently expanded the county’s roster of program mentors, from 42 to 47. In the upcoming school year, about 1,000 students in 33 schools will be served by Check & Connect.

Check & Connect is an evidence-based intervention that works with K-12 students who show warning signs of disengagement with school or dropping out. Mentors develop a supportive relationship with each student in the program, and monitor attendance, behavior, and grades.

“The success of the program last school year has really been energizing,” said Jana Ferguson, the University of Minnesota program coordinator for Check & Connect in St. Louis County. “The County and the individual schools have really allowed caseloads to be an appropriate size, giving mentors the chance to intervene and head off absences and behavior and other issues before they become problems.”

The longstanding program is also seeing strong results in a broad mix of other communities, including elsewhere in Minnesota and in Central Texas.

Communities in Schools of Central Texas, a nonprofit organization supporting districts in and around Austin, currently uses Check & Connect in two of its districts, with plans to expand to its entire region, about 100 schools, over 5 years.

“Our organization was already focused on the core components of a caring adult and regular check-ins, so in researching tools, Check & Connect came up as aligning well with our mission,” said Karen Gonzalez, program officer for Communities in Schools. “After creating buy-in from staff members, they’ve been engaged and have been able to make it their own. The reality is that some students, after experiencing all the effects of the pandemic, need more attention and customized plans for their academic journey, and Check & Connect provides that structure.”

Meanwhile, a research project with Central Lakes College to adapt the program to serve community college students is also showing promise. Over a 2-year period, students receiving services earned more credit hours and stayed enrolled at higher rates than students not enrolled in services.

“Check & Connect has been around for more than 30 years now, so it’s not the latest trend, but it’s gratifying to see this type of success with schools in their early stages of implementation,” said Eileen Klemm, Check & Connect program manager. “We’re now beginning to see districts implementing the program with fidelity on a very wide scale and it’s working. It’s very powerful to see what can happen when one adult in a student’s life has the right support to be there fully for a student.”