By Andrew Cluley-AAPS Communications Specialist
A three-year-old program created to reduce suspensions, improve student behavior, and lead to more academic achievement continues to show amazing results in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. In the 2015-16 school year the 165 students participating in the Intervention Specialist Program had a total of only 12 suspensions, compared to a similar group of only 80 students that had 42 suspensions during the 2012-13 year before the program was in place.
Trustee Simone Lightfoot says the program is making a difference in individual lives that will have a long lasting positive impact on the entire community. “Those young people often times are where leadership is, in that 2.0 and below student, if people can get in there and extract from them their gifts and their skills and they learn how to use those things for good,” Lightfoot says. “I always give the example, I was that child, and here I sit today presiding over policy and budget, and I see in those young people too, the potential people who will take care of us.”
The Board of Education received a report on the program last night, that left several trustees admitting the success of the program, and of students highlighted in a video, moved them to tears. The systemic change of how the district treats students with behavior, attendance, and academic challenges also led the state to determine Ann Arbor Public Schools are no longer disproportionately suspending African American students with Individualized Education Programs. The district’s efforts to meet state mandates around addressing this disproportionality is what led to the creation of the Intervention Program.
School Board Vice-President Christine Stead says the value of the personal attention the program gives students was apparent quickly, and has only continued to grow each year. ”When you all started it was the first time that I saw meaningful change for some of our at risk kids at the level they needed, at the personal level, with their issues, and their understanding of what’s going on in their lives,” says Stead.
Trustee Patricia Manley says parents appreciate the program because it’s helping to turn around students that were losing interest in school and seemed headed towards dropping out. “It’s just so heartwarming and so moving, and it’s just so special that someone is there for these kids who really need them,” Manley says.
The program has expanded from 80 students in four schools the first year, up to nine schools and 165 students in the just concluded year. The first Families Care Conference was held this year as well. It gave parents and families a panel discussion on strategies for academic success and the chance to connect with community resources.
This year the Intervention Specialists also dropped the word Behavior from the front of their title. Executive Director, Student Intervention and Support Services Elaine Brown says the name change more accurately describes the work the team is doing. “Not only do they work with students for behavior, they’re working with them on academics and also attendance,” Brown says. “So they wanted their name to reflect that, plus they wanted a more positive sense to who they are in those schools, so people will want to come to them saying you know what, we’re coming for help.”
The program is currently funded by IDEA dollars, but school board members say based on its success they will make sure funds are available if grant funds dry up in the future. Board members encouraged program members to provide a wish list on what’s needed to continue to improve the program, and Trustee Lightfoot says if necessary she’d provide personal funds. “I would write a check from our household to keep you, that is just how amazing you all are, and the work you’ve done,” she says.
Members of the Intervention Specialist team aren’t resting on their laurels however. They hope to expand the program next school year through increasing district-wide understanding of the program, an expanded Families Care Conference, quarterly parent workshops, and action plans to implement college and career readiness programs. Brown says they also hope to increase opportunities for professional development for teachers and staff. She says Intervention Specialists will continue to be available, but the hope is that everyone in the district will have the skills and strategies that make a difference.
The Intervention Specialist Program team also will be working this summer on creating a manual and how to book to share with others how the program was developed and some of the keys to its success.