by NATHANIEL NELSON
At St. Charles High School (SCHS), five years ago, several teachers noticed that there were students who needed help, but weren’t able to qualify for state-supported special education programs. Thus, principal Ben Bernard, English teacher Mike Smith and principal secretary Sherry Slavin came together to create the student help committee, giving students an outlet and a place to talk.
According to Bernard, the state’s special education guidelines are rigorous and specific, so many students who need help can be looked over in the long run. Students can need assistance in many ways, whether it’s academically, socially, or with organization skills, and the committee was created so those students would have someone to go to and work through those problems.
“They need somebody to talk to during the day, and need someone to work with. That’s what spurred this on,” Bernard explained.
The program started with a few students involved, but has slowly grown over the years as students come to their teachers needing help. Faculty will look at grades and see which students are struggling or if a formerly successful student begins to falter in their classes, as well as take referrals from teachers on students who are struggling, and figure out from there who needs help the most.
Kids meet with Smith and Slavin regularly from time to time to walk through their grades, struggles, and problems and work on strategies to make improvements. Both meet with around 15 students every week.
However, the program is not simply a tutoring initiative –– it’s about improving the children’s ability to communicate.
“It’s not an intelligence problem, but it’s a problem where they haven’t had the encouragement or the permission from adults to be successful. It’s hard to talk sometimes,” Bernard explained.
Smith has a free hour every day, which would normally be used for a study hall, that he uses to wander the halls and find students with whom to meet. He explained that he will bring them out and walk for a bit, sparking conversations about not only their grades but about themselves as well.
“I try to make a connection somewhere along the line of what they are interested in. Whether it’s music, video games, or sports, I make those connections to get the trust level to a point where we can talk about the harder things,” Smith said. ”They trust that I’m not going to run back to teachers and we’re going to work through these things together.”
He explained that he will often work with students on problems in their classes and at home. While as a teacher, he sees academic success as important, there are more factors than just being studious that can affect a student’s performance.
“I know that if I don’t understand them a little bit as people and what they’re going through, I won’t get a full picture of why things are happening as they are,” Smith explained.
Unlike Smith, Slavin has to stay at her desk most of the day. So instead of going out and finding the students where they are, she rings them up and brings them to the office to see how they’re doing.
“I tell them that I’m not here to fix you, but I’m another person in this building that can have their back,” she explained. “I ask how they’re doing in school and talk about their goals. I enjoy building those relationships.”
Those relationships are what the program is built on, Slavin explained. Many of the students tell her how they look forward to the weekly meeting, and she said it’s obvious that having that connection with their teachers can be a big thing for a struggling high school student.
“It’s important as people that we reach out to each other. We don’t know what’s going on in the lives of these kids that come every day. If an adult reaches out and says they care about what’s going on with you, that means a lot,” Slavin said.
The program was not created to fix students, Smith added, but just to help them and support them. He explained that he sometimes sees himself as a cheerleader, praising students when they succeed in ways that other teachers often don’t have the time to do.
“We’re not going to change the outcome with every kid. It’s more about letting them know that somebody here is concerned about you and we’re not going to let you fall through the cracks,” Smith said.