East Hartford Middle School (EHMS) is one the largest middle schools in Connecticut. Since entering the Connecticut State Department of Education’s Commissioner’s Network in 2015, EHMS staff have been aggressively working to improve student outcomes. Chronic absence prevention and intervention is embedded in the second pillar of their school improvement plan, “build[ing] a rich and vibrant learning culture.”
Some of EHMS’s strategies to create a strong culture include:
- Welcoming climate—To standardize behavioral norms and communication, every member of the EHMS community has signed on to a shared contract called the Falcon 4 Staff and Student Agreements. Cohorts of students are grouped in academies named after local colleges and universities to build a strong sense of belonging and a college-going culture. That culture is reinforced in the physical environment of the school where vibrant college signage and student photos line the hallways.
- Restorative practices—EHMS staff identified a troubling trend of disproportionate minority contact with exclusionary discipline and explicitly linked the practice to lost instructional time. “Anytime a student isn’t in class they’re missing out on valuable information,” says Principal Anthony Menard. He addressed the problem head-on, educating and investing staff on restorative practices through extensive professional development. Now EHMS uses Community Circles and Advisory Groups implementing the curriculum Second Step to build students’ social-emotional skills like acknowledging and articulating their actions, peacefully resolving conflict, and making amends. When appropriate, administrators work with students and families to implement restorative consequences, such as cleaning up an act of vandalism, in lieu of punitive measures like detention.
- Strong School Attendance Team structures—Two teams work actively to prevent chronic absence and intervene when students are at risk. The Early Warning Team meets daily to identify students who are not in school first period. They review recent interventions for those students, split up the list of absent students’ names and call their families to encourage them to bring their children into school. On a monthly basis, the Attendance Task Force Team – administrators, the family and community liaison, the school psychologists, three school counselors, four social workers, the attendance coordinator and the TOP (Teen Outreach Program) Coordinator – review the students who are at-risk of becoming chronically absent. They identify appropriate Tier II and Tier III interventions to support those students to come to school. Both teams utilize a data-driven approach including closely monitoring students who have a history of chronic absence and publicly celebrating those who are the most improved.
- Success Mentors program—In 2016-17, EHMS partnered with My Brother’s Keeper to pilot a Success Mentors program for sixth-grade students who were chronically absent. Volunteer school staff built relationships with students through quick morning check-ins, weekly one-on-one meetings, and strong relationships with families. According to the district, Family and Community Liaison, Vincent Crawford, “It’s a lot about relationships. When we’re all on the same page, we recognize that that’s when we have success.” Fourteen students who were referred to the Success Mentors program, because they were at risk of being chronically absent, were not chronically absent at the end of the year. The successful program will be scaled to support even more students in 2017-18.
Topic: Improving Climate with Restorative Practices
Strategy: Restorative practices
District: East Hartford Public Schools
District Snapshot: 6,882 students; 3,073 Hispanic/Latino; 2,286 Black or African-American; 1,106 White; 342 Asian; 17 schools Grades PK-12; 12.9% chronic absence rate (2016) and 14.0 (2016-17)
Contact Information: Frank Leon, Family and Community Liaison, email@example.com, 860-622-5633