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In June 2001, the Minneapolis School Board approved a plan to transform the high school experience for Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) through the creation of small learning communities that would allow more individualized attention to students and more instruction directed specifically toward reaching district goals. The district goals included significantly increasing graduation rates, improving academic achievement, and better preparing students for work, citizenship, and lifelong learning. In conjunction with this, a grant was received from the Bush Foundation to support a targeted effort to reach youth at highest risk for dropping out of school, which includes youth with disabilities.
Minneapolis Public Schools is the largest school district in Minnesota, serving almost 48,000 students in grades K-12. Nearly 67% are eligible for free or reduced lunch, nearly 25% speak English as a second language, and about 14% of the student population receives special education services. In 2002, expectations were established to achieve an 80% graduation rate by 2010, and students are required to attend school 95% of the time. Achieving these goals is even more challenging given the high mobility rates of students transferring into or out of district as well as between schools. Estimates suggest the rate of mobility is about 46% compared to 18% statewide. Current statistics point to the need for effective strategies to prevent dropout and promote school completion. The four-year graduation rate for the 1998 freshman class was 44%, and ranged from 13% for Native American students to 63% for White students.
To increase successful graduation from school and reduce the high school dropout rate, MPS began implementing Scaling Up for Success: A Dropout Prevention Project. The two-year pilot program in two high schools provides extra resources to ninth graders whose attendance record or other factors put them at high risk for dropping out. The program is specifically designed to assist students in ninth grade during the transition from middle to high school. Scaling Up for Success is based on research on resiliency that points to the positive impact an adult can have on fueling student academic motivation and the development of skills needed to overcome obstacles and meet daily challenges. Priority is given to developing trust-based relationships and fostering a long-term commitment to following students and families, even if they move from school to school. In addition, efforts are directed to providing access to various school and community resources.
The initiative integrates three dropout prevention strategies into a continuum of support and intervention for students at the two high schools. First, the Attendance Liaison Program (ALP) directs resources toward contacting families and following up as a frontline intervention when students first start missing school. Secondly, the School Attendance Review Board (SARB) brings community, school, and enforcement support persons together to remove barriers and uncover options that will help prevent absences from escalating. Third, Check & Connect (C&C), provides intensive support to students, families, and teachers through regular contacts with individual monitors whose role can be characterized as a cross between a mentor, advocate, and service coordinator.
Initially, incoming ninth graders are screened for referral based on multiple alterable indicators of risk including attendance data, suspensions, performance on the Minnesota Basic Standards Test, and a teacher rating of likelihood of completing school (based on additional indicators of engagement including family support for learning, sibling history of school completion, learning or behavior challenges, mobility and others). The referral procedure is continuous and begins with online attendance data programmed to automatically convert raw attendance into attendance groups weekly. Students attending 90-94% of the time generally receive ALP interventions, which include a letter sent to the parents regarding district attendance policy and a phone call from a C&C monitor or other staff member. The students attending 89% of the time or less are reviewed by the project coordinator and assigned to C&C monitors, if appropriate. Students are also referred based on teacher input.
The most intensive level of service that a student receives is through Check & Connect, a comprehensive model intended to promote students' engagement with school. Check & Connect was originally developed as part of an initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) to address dropout prevention and intervention for middle school students with learning and emotional/behavioral disabilities (Evelo, Sinclair, Hurley, Christenson, & Thurlow, 1995). Twelve years of research across multiple settings (urban and suburban school districts) as well as with various groups (students in grades K-12, students with and without disabilities) has demonstrated positive impacts. Evidence of effectiveness has included reduced truancy rates, decreased rates of suspension and course failure, increased rates of attendance, more credits earned, and more students on track to graduate (see http://ici.umn.edu/checkandconnect/).
Check & Connect is a highly targeted and individualized approach that is data-driven and designed to maximize personal contact and opportunities to build trusting relationships. The person responsible for facilitating a student's connection with school and learning is referred to as the monitor. Student levels of engagement (such as attendance, grades, suspensions) are checked regularly and used to guide the monitor's efforts to increase and maintain student's connection with school.
The MPS currently has eight C&C monitors, four at each school. Each is responsible for 50 students. The monitors use individualized intervention strategies to facilitate student engagement in school. They have a persistent belief in the student's ability to be successful, and develop trust over time through continuous and regular outreach to the student and family. Efforts include regularly checking on student attendance and academic performance, providing ongoing feedback about student progress, modeling the use of problem-solving skills, frequently communicating with families about good and bad news, and being available to the youth to listen to personal concerns. Activities may include placing wake-up calls to students, making a home visit to discuss student progress, assisting with a referral to obtain services from a community agency, helping a student organize homework, attending an IEP meeting with the student, or arranging tutoring services. A reciprocal exchange of information as well as facilitating collaboration between home and school are also key characteristics of the program.
The goal of C&C is to help students attend school regularly, actively participate in school, and get a good start on the path towards graduation. Key features of the model include:
During its first year of implementation, Scaling Up for Success has served 288 students. Among them is Sam, a young man who began high school at high risk for school failure, struggling academically and in trouble in the community. At the start of his ninth grade school year he transferred to a new school, where the administrator handling his transfer referred him to a Check & Connect monitor. When Rich, the monitor, first met with him, Sam was cooperative yet did not want anyone watching him too closely. As they started to build a relationship, Sam began to appreciate someone checking on him throughout the day and consulting with his parents and teachers. He came to realize passing his classes was critical if he was to achieve his goal of graduating. Still pulled in many directions by negative influences in his life, Sam's grades and attendance started to improve as Rich continued to mentor and monitor him. Today, Sam describes Check & Connect as "a blessing to me" and feels it has given him the desire to "rise to expectations."
The Scaling Up for Success pilot program is currently in its second year and evaluation efforts will be completed in July 2004. Thus far, however, anecdotal evidence from teachers and students about the difference it is making in school engagement suggests this approach holds significant promise of achieving higher rates of school completion for students with and without disabilities.
Evelo, D., Sinclair, M., Hurley, C., Christenson, S. & Thurlow, M. (1995). Keeping kids in school: Using Check and Connect for dropout prevention. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration.
Colleen Kaibel is Project Coordinator, Check & Connect, Minneapolis Public Schools, Minneapolis, Minnesota. She may be reached at 612/668-3884 or at Colleen.M.Kaibelfirstname.lastname@example.org.
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Citation: Gaylord, V., Johnson, D.R., Lehr, C.A., Bremer, C.D. & Hasazi, S. (Eds.). (2004). Impact: Feature Issue on Achieving Secondary Education and Transition Results for Students with Disabilities, 16(3). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration. Available from http://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/163.
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