Schools Embrace Check & Connect: “All The Difference in the World”

Heather Keeler.

ICI’s Check & Connect Student Engagement Intervention conference logged record attendance at its biannual user event in February, as school districts increasingly deploy American Rescue Plan funds to help students regain ground lost to the pandemic. 

The two-day, virtual conference gathered 561 participants, more than double the attendance of the previous conference. This year’s event featured National Check & Connect Mentor Awards and Check & Connect Champion Awards, given to six individuals who have demonstrated a high degree of success with the program. The conference also featured videos submitted by school districts that are achieving strong results with the program.  

“Our all-virtual platform made this conference more affordable for participants, precisely at a time when school districts are coming off of two challenging academic years for their students,” said Eileen Klemm, the ICI program manager responsible for implementing Check & Connect globally. “At-risk students in particular are still struggling, and this conference provided schools already using Check & Connect an opportunity to compare strategies for deepening their connections to these students and keeping them from falling off the grid.” 

Another highlight was Heather Keeler, a former Check & Connect mentor, now a state representative in Minnesota. She discussed her American Indian heritage and the lens that brought to her mentoring practice. 

Check & Connect, created at ICI more than 30 years ago, works with K-12 students who display warning signs of disengagement with school and who are at risk of dropping out. The evidence-based process involves employing trained mentors who use frameworks and/or technology supplied by Check & Connect to monitor students’ attendance, behavioral issues, and grades, and who develop a relationship with each student. The program has been implemented in 48 states and several non-U.S. countries. 

Ann Romine and Michelle Austin, national Check & Connect trainers, helped lead the content creation and technical aspects of the virtual conference.  

“We had 42 presenters and designed the conference to engage participants through a variety of interactive offerings. The customer survey feedback has been incredibly positive so far,” said Austin. 

Nicole Boone, a student support specialist at Northampton County High School in Gaston, North Carolina, was one of the Check & Connect Champions honored at the conference. 

“Spending that time with them makes all the difference in the world. You are that one link that will stop them from giving up on themselves,” Boone said. Since Check & Connect began in Gaston, absences have declined and academics have improved among students in the program, she said. 

Another Champion, Jeff Sagers, said the conference gave people who serve as mentors a glimpse of how others are implementing the program and connecting with students. Beyond the organizational and technical aspects of Check & Connect, he said, those connections are at the heart of the program’s success. 

“I had one student a couple of years ago who everyone wanted to put in the alternative high school because he was credit deficient and wasn’t expected to graduate. I said he’s a phenomenal saxophonist, and he’s not going to the alternative high school because they don’t have band,” Sagers said. “He not only graduated, but got a music scholarship to college. Kids rarely remember what you teach them, but they always remember how you treated them.”