Struggling Learners May Need More Than Academic Support

Darci Griebel's picture

Written by Darci Griebel, Principal at Escanaba Area Public Jr/Sr High School and Region 1 Representative on the MASSP Board of Directors

As the school leader, what safety nets do you have in place to help your struggling learners succeed? Our initial thoughts may go to interventions such as tier 1, 2, or 3 supports, however, I am referring more to social-emotional supports that help to build the “whole child.” So many of our students today come to school with emotional obstacles that put roadblocks in their path to learning. As educators, we have to don the many hats needed to help them put their minds at ease, so they can put their focus into what is happening in the classroom.

In my discussions with colleagues at MASSP’s recent Principal’s Summit in Detroit, one of our Leader2Leader topics included the numerous mental health issues that we are seeing in our school buildings today. It was apparent amongst even just the 10 people from around the state seated at my table that this is an overwhelming issue that everyone is dealing with. Most of our local communities are struggling to maintain or even to sufficiently provide the necessary mental health services that this growing population so desperately needs.

In an effort to help address this ever expanding need, our district and building level support staff are digging deep to come up with alternative ways to provide the emotional supports needed to maintain the healthy “whole child.” By doing so, it is our hope to increase learning and make our schools a safe haven for all. Years of research have shown that students who struggle daily with unmet emotional/physical needs (such as lack of food, grief, homelessness, lack of sleep, etc.), are less likely to be academically successful. It has become apparent that schools have become much more than educational facilities, they have become support structures for families.

This universal problem results in needing to be more and more creative and spread ourselves thinner. As a school, a multitude of programs and opportunities have been established by dedicated staff who have taken matters into their own hands. Reaching out within our local community, they help provide our students with the services and supports they need. For example: our building provides a clothes closet and necessary school supplies, available to not only students, but their family members as well. Our district has also worked in partnership with a local charitable foundation to provide 170 local families with large food boxes to help get them through the long holiday break.

In order to assist our school Social Worker in providing mental health services, we have brought in the help of an outside counselor to meet with the growing population of students who are in severe need, several days a week. Staff have also gotten creative to develop peer mentoring programs that partner students together, fostering relationships and getting them out into the community to engage in activities that encourage acceptance and friendship. Our building service organizations have resorted to having an ongoing food pantry that students can go into to get food items to put in their backpacks to bring home each day. Local donors have generously provided funds to help bring Christmas to many of our children, who wouldn’t normally experience much of a holiday.

Just like many of you, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the meeting the many needs of our students and to help them be successful and lead a “whole” life. No child should be at a disadvantage. The educational “playing field” must be equitable for all. Thank you to all educators who put themselves out there, making sure that children everywhere are supported; ensuring learning and future success.