Learning disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have left students at Helen Keller Middle School struggling to meet their grade level expectations much like other students across the United States.

Prior to the pandemic, 80% of students at Helen Keller Middle School were meeting their requirements. After experiencing two years of a pandemic that required an extended period of virtual instruction, just 72-75% of students are where they should be, said Helen Keller Middle School Principal Dr. Steven Clapp.

“Nationally, we are just seeing that kids are way behind where they typically are,” said Clapp. “Now, the good news is that all the students are evenly behind – it’s not as if some students got in-person instruction for the last two years. They’re just behind where they typically are when we aren’t in a pandemic,” he said.

In order to assist students who have fallen behind in areas like math, reading, and writing, Connecticut schools use a method of scientific research-based intervention, or SRBI, to ensure that no students slip through the cracks. Introduced under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act and first implemented in July 2010, SRBI is a “framework based on a continuum of support, including effective core instruction and interventions for students struggling to learn,” according to the Connecticut’s State Education Resource Center. Research shows that if intervention is done early and efforts are focused on the specific subject areas in which a child is struggling, then that student has the ability to bounce back quickly and ultimately keep up with their peers.

Helen Keller Middle School currently provides each grade level with extended learning periods. During these periods, students in the SRBI program work in a small classroom setting and are given more individualized instruction and hands-on learning activities in order to work on the skills they are struggling with. Other students at the school are able to use this time to work on their homework or read.

The progress of students in the SRBI program is evaluated regularly by faculty and staff. The school has developed a robust system to monitor students to ensure the program remains fluid in order to best serve each student, according to Helen Keller Middle School Assistant Principal, Annie Mohr.

“Throughout a six week cycle, there’s a meeting every week and it’s a different type of meeting. They are aimed at making sure there are no times where a student might fall through the cracks, because we are constantly having these conversations, and the conversations can be as minute as one child, or as big as what we need to do as a whole school. The ultimate goal is that it remains fluid–it’s not [one time] you need support, you always need support. It’s ‘let’s work on this skill first for six weeks and build some confidence,’” said Mohr.

There are a multitude of factors that can cause a child to fall behind. The reason may be rooted in an emotional problem rather than a more traditionally recognized skill-based problem.

“A lot of the time a student’s struggle in a classroom is due to an emotional reason,” Said Mohr. “Sometimes the small group work is just as much about skills as it is about ‘we believe in you,’ … and it’s a smaller setting where someone is saying ‘look you’ve got this, you did that,’ and then they can go back to the classroom with that renewed sense of confidence, and they tend to do a lot better.”

The SRBI program also plays a vital role in preventing students from being unnecessarily placed in special education classes, which can present a different set of challenges in the long term, according to Principal Clapp.

“The goal is always to have kids in the least restrictive classroom as possible. Every time a child is  pulled out of the classroom, they will fall further behind, even if it might be justified,” said Clapp.

SRBI has been a vital element for ensuring student success for a number of years; however, the SRBI framework has become more important than ever as schools like HKMS continue to assist students in reaching their full potential. While there may be more students in need of intervention as a result of the pandemic, the staff at Helen Keller Middle School continues to work diligently to make sure that all students can thrive.

“We are constantly going to be talking about students and their needs, because in middle school they change every ten minutes. We put a picture of the child up on the board at our meetings, so while we are talking, that human is still a human, they’re not numbers, they’re a little kid who we care for,” said Mohr.

Photos by Kaitlin Katzenback

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