Craig Middle School Assistant Principal Jill Hafey acknowledges that the lives of school children are challenging.
“Life is not easy these days,” Hafey said. “The kids carry a heavy load with just life itself. And, we add on learning expectations and sports expectations.
“These kids just need to know that they can come here and be supported. And, if sometimes they feel like we’re riding on them, it’s because we care.”
Part of that care comes in the form of the intervention/enrichment period that occurs every day at CMS.
For 35 minutes each day, 513 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students leave their core classes to attend focused workshops.
Students who are struggling in a particular subject are gathered into a small group, where a teacher provides directed study in that subject. That’s the intervention aspect.
The enrichment portion involves students who excel in their studies being afforded 35 minutes a day to participate in group projects that stretch beyond the scope of regular curriculum.
The workshops last two weeks, then the format is shuffled when new subjects for intervention and enrichment are identified and filled with the appropriate students.
Eighth-grade language arts teacher David Morris explained.
“It’s a chance to get a small number of kids and really concentrate with them on certain skills,” he said.
Morris is currently working with a social studies teacher to help students with paraphrasing.
“(Alicia) Townsend is helping me with this paraphrasing thing, so there’s actually two teachers in here with 10 kids,” Morris said. “We’re really trying to hammer them with this.”
Hafey said the program gets results.
“Our ineligibility list and our behavior list have both decreased,” she said.
Morris said the program is not new, but it has evolved into something new for this school year.
“We’ve always had intervention, but it used to be they’d just read and do homework,” Morris said. “Now, we’re taking it to the next level which is to start to pull kids for enrichment or for skill stuff.”
Hafey said enrichment projects motivate students who might otherwise feel unchallenged.
Part of the motivation comes through ownership.
“These kids are in the driver’s seat, (but) with some boundaries,” Hafey said of project selection. “We try to provide a resource to guide (students) so it is a learning process and something that could make a difference.”
Beyond those guidelines, Hafey said anything goes.
Hafey said enrichment projects have included community service, an audit of the school’s energy use, a water quality study of the Yampa River and a robotics workshop in conjunction with 4-H.
“One of the groups is doing a study on the cafeteria food to see if (CMS) is meeting the state requirements,” she said.
Hafey said the daily life of a student is busy.
“Our day is full. It’s packed from 8:05 a.m. to 3:40 p.m.,” she said. “It’s like a marathon every day.”
However, the intervention period creates time in the day to prevent children from getting behind, whether it be from an inability to grasp material or from an extended illness.
“We’re all weak in something,” Hafey said. “We hope to build the necessary skills so they can be successful in the world when they leave us for the high school.
“And, the best way to do that is through targeted intervention.”
Hafey said putting together small groups of students who are facing the same difficulty removes the stigma of needing extra help.
“It’s reassuring to see other kids who are struggling,” Hafey said of the students.
The small groups allow for flexible approaches to learning.
“Our kids might need to work on multiplication,” Hafey said. “For two weeks straight — through games, through assignments, through board work in a small group — they’ll focus on that one skill.”
Hafey said the period sometimes includes non-academic interventions.
“It could be a counseling group during that intervention time,” she said. “It could be how to make friends, how to control anger, how to control impulsivity.”
Hafey also said there are activities for students who aren’t struggling.
Those activities could include an extra physical education, art or shop period.
Hafey said determining the individual needs of 513 students is difficult.
“It’s very time consuming, it’s a lot of planning and it requires a lot of looking at data,” she said.
Data includes students’ test scores and their daily work in the classrooms, Hafey said.
Teachers’ instincts contribute to planning.
“The teachers know their kids,” she said.
The planning takes place every day during teacher collaboration.
Hafey said teachers discuss the needs of their students, and those conversations help form a bigger picture of where the students are at and what areas of study need to be strengthened.
CMS counselor Michelle Henderson said the logistics of creating a mini-course schedule every two weeks is daunting, but the teachers’ insights make it possible.
“I have to credit the teachers,” Henderson said. “They know their students very, very well.”
Hafey said students are also part of an ongoing, yet separate, conversation.
Each morning, students participate in “focus time.”
Focus time takes the place of a conventional homeroom period. Instead of a simple roll call before the academic day, students meet with teachers in small groups to discuss academic achievement.
Hafey said students’ increased awareness of performance pays off in two ways.
First, the awareness prevents unpleasant surprises when students are assigned to particular interventions.
“It’s really no surprise,” Hafey said. “It might be a bummer, but it’s not a surprise.
Second, Hafey said the constant monitoring serves as its own motivational tool.
“The effort level of the kids is going up because they know that every test, every assignment is being looked at,” she said. “Everything they do is being analyzed.”