OSWEGO, NY – Some Oswego Middle School students are receiving an educational plus.
The program is designed to assist the students academically and make them better prepared for the transition to high school.
A couple of years ago, a significant number of students were failing multiple classes, two or more core classes, according to OMS Principal Bonnie Finnerty.
“So we put some things in place as a stop gap and really looked at our instruction,” she said.
For the academically challenged eighth graders, they looked at their performance in seventh and sixth grades.
“Many of those students had been unsuccessful for a number of years, for a variety of reasons,” she said. “There were attendance concerns, poverty issues – a lot of different reasons.”
“We asked is there something we could do to help them be successful when they do enter the high school and also to unlearn some behaviors perhaps that they had learned or some feelings that they had adopted toward school that contributed to their lack of success,” she continued.
And that was the genesis of the Eight Plus program. That has been modified into the current transition program for two groups; some seventh graders and some eighth graders.
“We really started looking at what could we do differently for the kids that for whatever reason aren’t getting it,” the principal said.
The administrators at the elementary level generated a list of 10 – 15 students they had concerns about that may be at risk of not graduating high school. Meanwhile, at OMS, the focus was on the seventh graders.
Some intense AIS was put into place over the summer.
“It was not designed to simply be a repeat of content. It was truly identifying those kids that needed support and then we’d look at their skill level, their academic performance … and said where are they really? That’s where we’re going to target them,” she explained.
Teams worked with groups of students in the summer school program.
They began to develop a program that would catch at risk students as they entered (OMS) and support them a little bit differently.
Currently there are 15 students in the seventh grade section and 16 in the eighth grade section.
The principal pointed out that some of those students earned high honor roll status for the last quarter.
“It has been a great deal of work. But what we are doing is help them change their perception of school; they are receiving on grade level seventh grade instruction and on grade level eighth grade instruction for those two sections,” she said.
“Many of them are doing well; much of that is their own doing, to be very honest,” she added. “They’ve learned how to learn. They’ve taken a different approach and perspective to school. They’re owning and taking responsibility for their grades.”
Behavior had a lot to do with the problem, it wasn’t always just the academic deficiencies, Superintendent Bill Crist pointed out.
For some of the students, their behavior did get in the way of their learning, Finnerty agreed. That situation is improving, she added.
“We really feel strongly that as we build this transition, this at-risk support, that we can address the students that have significant behavior concerns differently than those kids that simply need a different model or are falling through the cracks for whatever reason or maybe just need a little extra time,” she explained.
Board member Fran Hoefer questioned why a similar program wasn’t in place to catch the at-risk students during their elementary years.
“Why wait until seventh grade? Why not do it in first grade, second, third?” he asked. “It’s working. Why not do this from day one?”
“Everyone has to understand, and I would have no problem with doing something like this at an earlier grade level, if everybody understands what we’re talking about here. It doesn’t come free. It costs money,” Board President Dave White said. “I’d have no problem spending the money to help those kids. If we did this at an earlier age, it would probably help everyone all the way up. But, it comes at a cost.”
It is something the entire board will have to look at as the budget process continues to unfold, he added.