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5/17/2017

Get 2 School. You Can Make It! – Cleveland Addresses Chronic Absenteeism

By: Chris Woolard

Get-2-School.jpgIt is important for Ohio’s students to be in class every day ready to learn. Ohio defines chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more of the school year for any reason. This is about 18 days, or 92 hours, of school. Whether absences are excused or unexcused makes no difference — a child who is not in school is a child who is missing out on their education.

Cleveland Metropolitan School District understands the importance of getting every student to school every day. The district is wrapping up the second year of its citywide attendance campaign, “Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” The campaign promotes the importance of regular school attendance throughout the entire city with billboards, yard signs, radio commercials, social media, phone outreach, home visits and videos. The campaign lets students know that they can make it to school today, they can make it to school tomorrow, and they can make it to their college or career goals.  

“Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” works to remove barriers that contribute to students being chronically absent and rewards good and improved attendance through a data-driven decision-making process. The campaign rewards students for on-track attendance, which the district defines as missing 10 days or less per year or 2.5 days or less per quarter in order to prevent students from becoming chronically absent. Before the “Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” campaign, nearly two-thirds of students in the district missed more than 10 days per year. After the first year of the program, the district reported 2,400 more students on track with attendance compared to prior years.
Cleveland Metropolitan School District leverages strategic partners to ensure the entire community works together to make attendance a priority for all students. Community volunteers have joined the district to ensure the success of the campaign. The Cleveland Browns Foundation is a signature partner for “Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” Cleveland Browns players have recorded phone calls, visited schools and appeared in videos to remind students to get to school. The Browns players have to show up every day to be successful, and they carry that message to students — you have to show up to school every day to succeed.

Beyond enlisting players to motivate students to get to school, the Browns Foundation and district partnership strategically removes barriers students face in getting to school.
The Browns Foundation convened a meeting with Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Shoes and Clothes for Kids to positively impact attendance by donating Special Teams Packages to 2,000 students in the district. A Special Teams Package provides students with three school uniforms, a casual outfit, socks, underwear and a gift card for shoes. This partnership helps students who may not be attending school due to a lack of shoes or clothing. Cleveland Metropolitan School District uses data to strategically target students who need clothing to get to school and tracks attendance of students who receive Special Teams Packages to ensure the program is making an impact.

A key part of the campaign’s success has been shifting the mindset from only recognizing perfect attendance to rewarding good or improved attendance. The Browns Foundation has partnered with the district to provide incentives to schools, classes and students who have shown improved attendance. The Browns Foundation has leveraged partnerships and brought other corporate partners to the table, including Arby’s Restaurant Group, which has donated monthly lunches to reward classrooms showing improved attendance and academic performance. GOJO Industries, Inc., is another partner to recently help out with this initiative and will provide Purell hand sanitizing products to schools. Starting next school year, GOJO also will help pilot a hygiene program at a network of schools to curb absences due to illnesses. Again, the district will track data to measure the program’s effectiveness.

As part of encouraging students to come to school, the district has created “You Can Make It Days,” which are days the district has determined to have lower attendance than other days of the year. Cleveland Metropolitan School District analyzed data and identified specific days students are more likely to miss, such as the day after a snow day or the day before a holiday. The district uses “You Can Make It Days” to encourage consistent attendance throughout the year and emphasizes the importance of attending school each day. On “You Can Make It Days,” students who are at school may be treated to surprise visits from Cleveland Browns players, treats from CEO Eric Gordon or raffles for prizes provided by community partners.

The district and the Browns Foundation recently hosted a Chronic Absenteeism Summit held at FirstEnergy Stadium to share their successes and lessons learned with other districts, policymakers and national experts.

To learn more about the program, visit get2schoolcleveland.com.

Chris Woolard is senior executive director for Accountability and Continuous Improvement for the Ohio Department of Education. You can learn more about Chris by clicking here.

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8/10/2017

A Great School Year Starts with Knowing Your Students

By: Virginia Ressa

ThinkstockPhotos-477634708.jpgHappy New School Year! My colleague and friend, Stephanie Donofe, ended her blog last week by wishing everyone a happy new year. I thought it was perfect — that’s exactly how I feel at the start of a new school year. It may not be Jan. 1, but you’re starting anew: redecorating, buying supplies, planning lessons, organizing resources. It is a fun time of year, as long as the weather doesn’t turn too hot.

One of the most interesting aspects of a new school year is meeting your new students. They may not be new to the school, you may know of them from your colleagues or even have data in a file, but you don’t truly know your students until you spend time with them. There are lots of “interest inventory” tools out there to ask the students about themselves. Some of these are probably a lot more useful than others. Do you really need to know Johnny’s favorite food? Maybe, but I bet there are questions you could ask that would reveal a whole lot more about your students and their lives than asking for their favorite foods. Maybe it would help to ask students about what comes “easy” to them and what things they consider “challenges.” I saw a set of writing prompts that asked “would you rather” questions like, “Would you rather be really tall or really short?” or “Would you rather live in the city or the country?” These types of writing prompts also are great conversation prompts and could elicit important details about students’ lives, their interests, fears and more.

In Ohio, we have a very diverse student population. Almost 3 percent of our students are learning English as a second language. That might not seem like a lot statewide, but it is significant if those students live in your district. Students with disabilities make up 14.5 percent of our population and are learners in classrooms across the state. The most startling of the statistics I looked at today is the percent of our students who are economically disadvantaged: 49.9 percent. That’s half of our 1.7 million students living in households struggling to meet their financial needs, which we know has many repercussions. Part of those students who are economically disadvantaged are the 1.2 percent who are homeless; that is 20,185 homeless students in Ohio. Right now, Ohio is experiencing a record number of students needing stable, out-of-home care as a result of the current opioid epidemic.

When we meet our new students, especially those new to the district, they don’t come with signs on their foreheads that tell us what their needs are. We have to work hard to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to understand what their environments are like when they leave our schools. I don’t say that to sound depressing — I promise, I’m not here to spoil your new year. I bring up these issues because it is essential for teachers to learn about their students so they can better meet students’ needs. This is not an easy task, and we often unintentionally revert to applying stereotypes and making assumptions. In such a diverse state, making assumptions about who our students are is definitely not best practice and reminds me of my mother’s admonition about the result of making assumptions (do you know that one?).

I’d like to share with you a personal story that isn’t all that pretty. When I began teaching, I was working in an urban alternative school with “at-risk” students. As a history teacher, I thought it would be fun to start the year off by making timelines of our own lives. I created a sample on the board with details of my life, then I asked my seventh-graders to draw a timeline of their lives. I wanted them to go back before they were born and include their parents and other family members on their timelines. There was one student who just would not get to work. As a new teacher, I felt that if I let him “get away” with that, it would set a precedent for the year. So, I urged him to get to work a couple of times. I tried changing my tone from friendly to stern. Still nothing on his paper. I set a consequence, threatening to send him out of the room if he wasn’t going to participate. He made the decision to leave the room himself and cursed at me on the way out. What I found out when I talked with him later was that he didn’t know much about his family or when or where his parents and grandparents were born. Because I never asked him why he wasn’t working, I didn’t understand his behavior or his learning needs. I was naïve in assuming this would be a “fun” activity for all my students. I hadn’t considered the complicated emotions it might elicit because I didn’t yet know my students.

That’s a hard story to share so publicly. I have to remind myself that it was many years ago, and I was very young. But that’s not an excuse and doesn’t make my naïveté okay. What helped to make things right was the frank and honest discussion my student had with me about his life and the apologies we exchanged as we both pledged to ask rather than assume.

As you meet your new students, remember that there are many things you don’t yet know about them. Ask lots of questions, provide opportunities for them to share their experiences and lives with you and their classmates. Share some of your own personal stories, even your strengths and weaknesses. Take the time to stop and think before you assume anything about a student. A student may be learning English for the first time, but she also may be proficient in reading and writing one or more other languages — she already has strong literacy complex thinking skills that you can foster. A student receiving free lunch may have a more stable home than the student who comes in with a full lunch box every day. The student identified as having a learning disability is likely able to achieve at the same rate as his peers if provided the right supports.

I encourage you to embrace the diversity of your classroom by getting to know your students and avoiding making assumptions about them. This is a lesson I learned the hard way — I hope this is a time when you can learn from another teacher’s mistake.

Have a very Happy New Year! 

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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10/26/2017

GUEST BLOG: Getting Off to the Right Start: Preventing Bullying in Your School — Jill Jackson, Ohio Department of Education

By: Guest Blogger

GettyImages-483374624.jpgOff to a great start is the theme the Ohio Department of Education is promoting for schools and students throughout Ohio. To prevent and address bullying behavior, we are promoting four strategies that create a positive school climate and a safe and supportive teaching and learning environment in Ohio schools. Promoting a positive school climate, along with implementing bullying prevention practices will help staff members, students and families be off to a great start this school year.

The first strategy is for every district and school to have an Anti-Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying policy that outlines how schools identify bullying behavior. An active anti-harassment, intimidation and bullying policy ensures all staff members, students and parents know how bullying behavior is defined and addressed in your school. School staff members should be trained to respond to bullying behavior when it occurs.

Second, school staff members should be trained to recognize and respond to bullying behavior. The Department requires educators to take Safety and Violence Prevention training every five years. This training gives school staff members skills to recognize, reach out and refer potential problems before they escalate. The Safety and Violence Prevention Curriculum reminds school professionals of the important role they play in the early identification of critical issues affecting students. It also attempts to raise school staff members’ awareness of the warning signs for mental, emotional and behavioral problems among students and advises educators on ways to reach out to these students and refer them to appropriate assistance. Through identifying student needs and providing appropriate interventions, educators can ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to succeed at school.

The third strategy to support your school community is to implement a schoolwide safety plan. Using the PBIS framework and schoolwide safety strategies, all school employees, social workers and mental health partners can create a culture of respect to prevent bullying behavior. Positive school climate and bullying prevention practices are the product of a school’s attention to fostering trust and safety; promoting a supportive academic, disciplinary, and physical environment; and encouraging and maintaining respectful and caring relationships throughout the school. Feeling safe and supported at school is fundamental to success for staff and students.

Finally, to address the individual needs of students, we recommend the development and implementation of a Student Action Plan. Bullying behavior undermines a student’s sense of security and distracts from a student’s ability to be successful in school. A Student Action Plan provides students involved in bullying behavior (either the target or perpetrator) with supports before, during and after the school day, as well as interventions for identified behavior needs.

October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, prepare to be off to a great start by promoting a positive school climate and bullying prevention practices this school year. This will promote healthy relationships, school safety, increased school attendance and greater academic achievement. October is a good time for administrators and staff to discuss how they can update their anti-bullying policies and practices to make them even more effective. Explore the tools available here, including a nine-minute video, the Department’s Model Anti-Bullying Policy and a guidance document that outlines everyone’s role in addressing student incidents and strategies for developing individual Student Action Plans.

Jill Jackson is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education where she leads the Department's anti-bullying efforts. She can be reached at Jill.Jackson@education.ohio.gov.

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11/2/2017

GUEST BLOG: Not Even Once... Addressing the Opioid Epidemic — Christa Hyson, Cincinnati Health Department

By: Guest Blogger

11-2-17.jpgI am not a teacher by profession, but I try my hardest to be a good one. I have great admiration for what classroom teachers do every single day across the world. Whether it was a part of previous positions I’ve had or currently in public health — teaching has always been an integral part of my work. In addition to teaching, I’ve had the opportunity to work with youth on prevention education curriculums ranging from tobacco to communicable disease. None have been as challenging as attempting to address the opioid epidemic.

I don’t claim to have all the answers to solve the opioid epidemic across this country, but I wish I did. It has torn apart families, crumbled portions of our workforce and completely rocked the medical community. This epidemic has no road map. There is no established, evidence-based practice that says if you do “x,” then you will receive “y” as a positive result.

As a public health professional, I try to think of ways to avoid adverse health outcomes. While this sounds oversimplified, prevention is the backbone of public health. Working for the Cincinnati Health Department, I am a witness to the constantly moving pieces of this epidemic — from endless overdose data, to potential policy changes, to Quick Response Teams and resource identification.

Working from different angles on this epidemic, I felt more could be done on the prevention side. I was fortunate to find an organization willing to fund a prevention initiative. My project is entitled Not Even Once. Not Even Once aims to implement the HOPE (Health and Opioid Prevention Education) curriculum at Oyler School. Oyler was strategically selected as a pilot site for HOPE due to the high number of overdoses in the surrounding neighborhood. Prevention curriculums like HOPE are key — key to saving lives, saving resources and most important, preventing youth from ever starting to abuse drugs.

What makes HOPE different is that it is the opposite of most anti-drug programs. It is pro-youth empowerment; pro-good decision-making; pro-self-respect. Kids are told, “No,” enough. This curriculum puts them in the driver’s seat of their own lives. It gives them the tools to use throughout their lives to build resiliency, self-respect and community awareness. It goes beyond basic knowledge, skills, behaviors and attitudes and turns it into functional health knowledge.

A few learning objectives of HOPE are:

  • Understanding the components of healthy, safe and respectful choices;
  • Identifying trusted adults;
  • Knowing how to ask for help; and
  • Understanding the differences between over-the-counter and prescription medicines.
I started teaching HOPE in June 2017 for ages 9-13 and will continue through December. From the moment the project began, I was astounded by the openness of the kids and their profound awareness of this epidemic right on their doorstep. One night a few weeks into class, my phone rang — it was a parent of a child in class, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Again, I was taken aback by her honesty. She stressed how difficult it is as a parent to talk to her children about what’s going on 15 feet from their doorstep. Instead, she tells her kids to “always stay inside” instead of playing at the park across the street.  

Some people have told me that kids in certain drug-ridden parts of town are “lost causes.” I vehemently disagree with this, especially with my kids. Because they have HOPE. I believe in the village. I believe we will overcome this epidemic one day, with people who have rallied together to empower others to fully utilize talents to create a society of empathy.

This project would not be possible without the generosity of the Carol Ann & Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, People’s Liberty and especially Dr. Kevin Lorson, Ohio Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance president and professor and Physical Education program director at Wright State University. I am eternally grateful that he was willing to take a chance on me to implement HOPE.

Christa Hyson is the health communication specialist at the Cincinnati Health Department and project grantee for People’s Liberty. She combines her public health skills and youth prevention education to execute, Not Even Once. Click here to learn more about the Hope Curriculum. You can learn more about Christa and her project here.

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1/31/2018

Feelings and Relationships Matter: A Guide to Social and Emotional Learning

By: Wendy Grove

GettyImages-671260408.jpgHow well we get along with others can open or close doors for kids and adults alike. When we talk about human development, we know how well a child can get along with others matters for childhood, school and life. Social and emotional learning is the extent to which a child learns how to get along with peers and adults, can appropriately express emotions and develops empathy and skills like self-concept, self-regulation and self-competence. But what do these skills really mean? And, what do they look like?

  • When people can appropriately express emotions, they can share feelings of anger, happiness and sadness in socially acceptable ways. Most children learn early on that pinching to express frustration won’t work in life. People do not like to be pinched. A child might think, “I can get in trouble if I pinch. I might get pinched back!” As they grow, kids replace these behaviors with more appropriate ways to express frustration, like telling an adult or moving on to another situation.
  • When a person has developed empathy, he can envision or feel what it might be like for someone in a circumstance, even if he hasn’t been in that situation before.
  • As someone develops her self-concept, she can see herself as part of a family, a neighborhood, a community, a racial or ethnic group and a nation. She sees how she is different from and like others. These are all skills that come with learning, practice and opportunities to compare oneself to others around them.
  • When it comes to developing self-regulation, we often think about bad behavior. Simply put, being able to self-regulate means that a person can delay gratification, demonstrate self-control, identify consequences and take responsibility for his actions. Very young children develop this over time, which is why it is common to see a 2-year-old child crying in a grocery store because the parent denied him a toy. It is much less common to see a 13-year-old child acting out emotionally for being denied something he wants.
  • A person with self-competence knows that she has skills and abilities to accomplish things. She understands that trying hard can result in learning new things.

The other part of social and emotional learning is relationships with others. Children learn about interactions with other children and adults, what to expect, who to trust, how to get along with others, how to cooperate, and how to both get what they need and give what they can to help others. Does your preschool-age child share well? Probably not. Not many do. But over time, and with opportunities to practice the skills needed to get along with others, children become able to build relationships with others. The first relationships we build are with our caregivers. The adults that take care of us have an important role in attending to our needs as small people because we cannot do things for ourselves. As children grow and develop independence, they also come to build relationships outside of their families. When children attend school, they must learn how to trust, communicate and interact with other non-family adults, as well as other children.

Social and emotional development and learning are the building blocks for life. These skills are built over time as we age. They are practiced and honed. These are as important as our academic skills for school success because very few of us will attend school alone or live without the need to interact with others.  The state currently has standards in this area from for children from birth-grade 3 but does not yet have standards for grades 4-12. Stay tuned for updates from the Department about upcoming work to create standards for social and emotional learning in grades 4-12.

Dr. Wendy Grove is the director of the Office for Early Learning and School Readiness at the Ohio Department of Education, where she helps develop and implement policies for preschool special education and early childhood education. You can learn more about Wendy by clicking here.

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2/15/2018

GUEST BLOG: Helping Youth Create A+ Relationships — Corina Klies and Beth Malchus-Stafa, Ohio Department of Health

By: Guest Blogger

Editor’s Note: February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. To highlight this important issue, we asked Corina Klies and Beth Malchus-Stafa, from the Ohio Department of Health, to share some advice for how adults in education settings can help young people form healthy relationships. 

Heart.pngThink back to high school, college or your workplace. You easily can identify those relationships that are worth an A+ versus a D-. What makes up an A+ relationship? Many of the qualities needed in a healthy relationship are in the image to the right.

As a teacher, administrator, coach or parent volunteer, youth look to you to model qualities needed for healthy relationships. Positive relationships with youth create safe learning environments and reinforce examples of healthy relationships.

Often, adults feel they don’t know how to begin a conversation or have the skills to talk about dating violence. They feel more comfortable referring to the school policy or providing statistics: One in three girls and one in seven boys will experience dating violence before they are 18 years old. It’s easier to just put up a poster acknowledging Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month during February than it is to really discuss it.

While it is important that youth know the school policy for dating violence — and statistics, definitions and posters are great for raising awareness — it is more important for youth to learn the skills needed to maintain healthy relationships. These include mutuality, affection, courage, consent and accountability. These skills shouldn’t be relegated to a single class or learning session. These skills should be incorporated into daily experiences. In English classes, they can be part of book discussions, history classes can discuss conflict resolution, marching band teachers can provide tips on working together in a squad and student internships can teach good working relationships between supervisors and co-workers.

Adults also can demonstrate healthy relationship skills with teachable moments. A teachable moment is an unplanned opportunity that arises when a teacher or adult has an ideal chance to offer insight. While adults cannot prevent youth from making hurtful comments or protect them from unkind behaviors all the time, they can stop youth from making hurtful comments or demonstrating unkind behaviors in their presence.

Using teachable moments is an easy three-step process: see it, claim it, stop it.

See it means telling the youth and possibly those around who witness the behavior what you observed. Claim it means stating why it was offensive and possibly against your school’s student code of conduct or classroom rules. Stop it means turning the situation around and suggesting different behaviors. This model of intervening and re-teaching behavior is a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports strategy. 

Again, think back to high school, college or your workplace, how did you learn about A+ relationships? Maybe you didn’t and had to learn through trial and error. Healthy relationships are hard work, like learning to understand the Pythagorean theorem. Both take homework and repeated lessons over time. Here are some exercises for you to perfect the use of teachable moments.

Scenario A:

Someone is texting Greg during class. His cell vibrates several times. Ms. Shankleton gives Greg a detention. After class, Greg and his friend Kallia approach Ms. Shankleton to talk about how he received 35 texts this morning from his girlfriend. He doesn’t know how to tell her to stop. Greg shows Ms. Shankleton his girlfriend’s texts. They are about who he talks to; what he’s wearing; and why he’s late to walk her to her class. Ms. Shankleton follows the training she received on her school’s policies for anti-harassment, intimidation and bullying and teen dating.

What would you say to Greg? What would you say to Kallia, the upstander,? What does your school policy say you should do for Greg? How does your school policy use the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports strategy of intervening and re-teaching behavior to address the young woman’s (Greg’s girlfriend) texting? How does your school policy address electronic and technology in the context of teen dating abuse? What type of training is provided at your school to promote upstanding behavior? Does your school work with community agencies to provide referrals? How are parents involved?

Here are possible, responsible ways to respond to this scenario:

  • To Greg: “Thank you for telling me. I am sorry I didn’t understand what was happening. Repeatedly texting someone over and over like this is a form of dating violence This is a serious situation; can I go with you to the guidance counselor?”
  • To the upstander Kallia: “Thank you for being a concerned friend and coming with Greg to see me.”

Scenario B:

It’s Friday night and the band parents’ concession stand is winding down. Mr. Kepperly is grilling the last two hamburgers. He watches Adam single out a girl next to the wall of the concession stand. Adam calls her an offensive, derogatory name and asks why she is talking to Jackson. The girl is distressed and keeps saying: “It’s about our English project.” There is a crowd of youth growing around the two.

What would you say to Adam? What would you say to the crowd? What does your school policy say a parent volunteer should do to help Adam’s girlfriend? How does your school policy train parent volunteers? How does your school policy address teen dating violence at public events?

Here is a possible, responsible way to respond to this scenario:

  • To Adam: Mr. Kepperly goes up to the two and says: “Adam, I just heard you call her a name. In our school, we find this language offensive, and we don’t use that kind of language with each other. That behavior needs to stop, and you need to walk away.”
  • To the girlfriend: Mr. Kepperly asks if she is okay.  

Mentally practicing these scenarios can help make us more comfortable addressing these situations in real life. As adults who interact and work with youth, we must accept the responsibility to do more than memorize statistics and put up posters. We have the power to intervene when necessary and guide young people to forming positive, A+ relationships. The next time you witness inappropriate relationship behavior, don’t be afraid to see it, claim it and stop it.

Corina Klies works for the Ohio Department of Health overseeing a grant that focuses on providing culturally specific services to sexual assault survivors in the African/African-American, Asian/Asian-American and Latino/Hispanic communities.

Beth Malchus-Stafa is a public health consultant at the Ohio Department Health. She is a content expert in the area of bullying, teen dating violence, and sexual and intimate partner violence prevention.

Beth and Corina are members of the Ohio Department of Education Anti-Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying Initiative. To contact them, click here.

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2/22/2018

STAFF BLOG: Together to Stabilize Education for Children in Foster Care — Tom Capretta, Family and Children Community Coordinator

By: Staff Blogger

GettyImages-519433758-1.jpgIn my work, I often present to educators, and I try to find ways to immediately engage them. One of my favorite activities to kick off a workshop is to ask participants to draw maps of places from their childhoods. I adapted this activity from Dr. Barbara Boone at The Ohio State University. Participants have five minutes to draw a map of any size, but it must include some places where they spent a lot of their time. Then, mapmakers discuss similarities and differences between their maps and the emotions tied to the places. Often, most maps in the room are similar. However, occasionally we get to discuss two very different maps. Many with geographically larger maps discuss how challenging it was to change schools and move between communities. At the end of the activity, we discuss what the maps of the students we serve might look like.

One-third of young adults in foster care reported five or more school changes. This is important because just one move can increase a student’s risk of not graduating or delaying graduation. Now, imagine what the maps of students in foster care might look like. Many of their maps would paint pictures of frequent moves that disrupt established relationships with trusted adults and their peers. In the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), lawmakers attempted to address the challenging and frequent transitions that students in foster care experience.

ESSA seeks to stabilize the education of children in foster care in four key ways. First, ESSA requires county child welfare agencies to work with school districts to identify the best educational setting for each student transitioning in foster care. The procedure for determining the best interest of the student should focus on maintaining as much of the student’s education stability as possible — including staying in his or her school of origin. Second, if a student can continue in the school of origin, ESSA requires the school district to arrange transportation services for the student in foster care. Transportation is key to ensuring stability. Third, if a student is unable to stay in the school of origin, ESSA requires that the new school begin the enrollment process immediately while working to remove barriers to enrollment and evaluating the student’s academic needs. Finally, when a student in foster care must change schools, districts must work diligently to facilitate the transfer of records as quickly as possible.

This shift in how we serve students in foster care will pose some challenges for districts and county agencies. For too long, school districts and child welfare agencies worked separately to support the same students. Today, ESSA challenges two distinct, large systems to work collaboratively and focus on what is best for students in their care. ESSA also challenges districts and child welfare agencies to share in the cost of transporting students in foster care. Even with these challenges, there are opportunities. Agencies and schools are building new channels of communication and systems to better meet the needs of the students they serve.

There are three critical actions that districts and county agencies are taking to effectively implement these requirements and build positive momentum around this work.

  1. Prepare: Districts and child welfare agencies must ensure that staff from the very top of an organization all the way down to support staff are informed of requirements. All staff must be ready to engage in procedures to support students in foster care. By being prepared, everyone can work to immediately enroll students and make sure they have the resources to learn and feel comfortable in their school settings.
  2. Coordinate: Districts and child welfare agencies should work together to write best interest determination and transportation procedures. With clear procedures in place, both parties can fulfill their respective responsibilities to support the educational stability of students in foster care. Many districts and child welfare agencies are forming regional or countywide networks that write these procedures.
  3. Collaborate: Districts and child welfare agencies are thinking outside the box and respecting the expertise of each party at the table. Together, they are creating solutions to complex problems. Both districts and county agencies have unique insights to the needs of each student. Those insights should be simultaneously respected. Working together to find student-centered solutions is what collaboration is all about.

All in all, ESSA’s new requirements for students in foster care is positive. These requirements ensure that school districts and county child welfare agencies are working together to keep relationships with trusted adults and peers intact. At the same time, they are making student-centered decisions for what a student’s best educational setting may be. While there are challenges, there are unprecedented opportunities to improve academic outcomes for students in foster care.

Tom Capretta is the family and children community coordinator at the Ohio Department of Education. He supports districts in their efforts to implement effective family and community engagement strategies and serve vulnerable student groups, including students in foster care. To contact Tom, click here.

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3/1/2018

ENCORE: Get 2 School. You Can Make It! – Cleveland Addresses Chronic Absenteeism

By: Chris Woolard

Editor's note: This blog was originally published on May 17, 2017 but some things are so good they deserve another look! We are re-running the post so everyone gets a chance to read this staff favorite.

Get-2-School.jpgIt is important for Ohio’s students to be in class every day ready to learn. Ohio defines chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more of the school year for any reason. This is about 18 days, or 92 hours, of school. Whether absences are excused or unexcused makes no difference — a child who is not in school is a child who is missing out on their education.

Cleveland Metropolitan School District understands the importance of getting every student to school every day. The district is wrapping up the second year of its citywide attendance campaign, “Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” The campaign promotes the importance of regular school attendance throughout the entire city with billboards, yard signs, radio commercials, social media, phone outreach, home visits and videos. The campaign lets students know that they can make it to school today, they can make it to school tomorrow, and they can make it to their college or career goals.  

“Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” works to remove barriers that contribute to students being chronically absent and rewards good and improved attendance through a data-driven decision-making process. The campaign rewards students for on-track attendance, which the district defines as missing 10 days or less per year or 2.5 days or less per quarter in order to prevent students from becoming chronically absent. Before the “Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” campaign, nearly two-thirds of students in the district missed more than 10 days per year. After the first year of the program, the district reported 2,400 more students on track with attendance compared to prior years.

Cleveland Metropolitan School District leverages strategic partners to ensure the entire community works together to make attendance a priority for all students. Community volunteers have joined the district to ensure the success of the campaign. The Cleveland Browns Foundation is a signature partner for “Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” Cleveland Browns players have recorded phone calls, visited schools and appeared in videos to remind students to get to school. The Browns players have to show up every day to be successful, and they carry that message to students — you have to show up to school every day to succeed.

Beyond enlisting players to motivate students to get to school, the Browns Foundation and district partnership strategically removes barriers students face in getting to school.
The Browns Foundation convened a meeting with Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Shoes and Clothes for Kids to positively impact attendance by donating Special Teams Packages to 2,000 students in the district. A Special Teams Package provides students with three school uniforms, a casual outfit, socks, underwear and a gift card for shoes. This partnership helps students who may not be attending school due to a lack of shoes or clothing. Cleveland Metropolitan School District uses data to strategically target students who need clothing to get to school and tracks attendance of students who receive Special Teams Packages to ensure the program is making an impact.

A key part of the campaign’s success has been shifting the mindset from only recognizing perfect attendance to rewarding good or improved attendance. The Browns Foundation has partnered with the district to provide incentives to schools, classes and students who have shown improved attendance. The Browns Foundation has leveraged partnerships and brought other corporate partners to the table, including Arby’s Restaurant Group, which has donated monthly lunches to reward classrooms showing improved attendance and academic performance. GOJO Industries, Inc., is another partner to recently help out with this initiative and will provide Purell hand sanitizing products to schools. Starting next school year, GOJO also will help pilot a hygiene program at a network of schools to curb absences due to illnesses. Again, the district will track data to measure the program’s effectiveness.

As part of encouraging students to come to school, the district has created “You Can Make It Days,” which are days the district has determined to have lower attendance than other days of the year. Cleveland Metropolitan School District analyzed data and identified specific days students are more likely to miss, such as the day after a snow day or the day before a holiday. The district uses “You Can Make It Days” to encourage consistent attendance throughout the year and emphasizes the importance of attending school each day. On “You Can Make It Days,” students who are at school may be treated to surprise visits from Cleveland Browns players, treats from CEO Eric Gordon or raffles for prizes provided by community partners.

The district and the Browns Foundation recently hosted a Chronic Absenteeism Summit held at FirstEnergy Stadium to share their successes and lessons learned with other districts, policymakers and national experts.

To learn more about the program, visit get2schoolcleveland.com.

Chris Woolard is senior executive director for Accountability and Continuous Improvement for the Ohio Department of Education. You can learn more about Chris by clicking here.

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3/29/2018

GUEST BLOG: Mental Health First Aid...Indian Lake’s Response to a Community Crisis — Robert Underwood, Indian Lake Local School District

By: Guest Blogger

GettyImages-177761232.jpgI’m going to be open and honest here. The staff and students of Indian Lake Local Schools have experienced the suicides of two high school students in the past five years. I was serving as the high school principal during these tragedies, and it was, without a doubt, the most challenging time of my professional career. Both deaths were sudden and unexpected. Reactions were painful and raw. Our young people and experienced educators were grief-stricken and asked, “What signs did we miss?” and “How can we prevent this going forward?” Making matters worse, there was an overall increase of suicides in our community during this time. These events emphasized the critical need for emotional support in our schools.

Although traditional first-aid training is not yet mandatory for all educators in Ohio, I would venture to say that most teachers and school staff have taken at least one first-aid course at some point in their lives. When you are responsible for the care of others, it makes perfect sense to be knowledgeable about lifesaving techniques should a medical emergency arise. First aid gives individuals the skills to provide basic medical treatment, often saving the person’s life, until a professional can take over.   

After the tragedies that Indian Lake School District witnessed in the school and the community, we decided to apply first-aid principles to our own mental health. As adults, we often focus on our physical well-being. We regularly go to checkups to ensure we are healthy. We model this behavior for students. We encourage them to eat right and exercise frequently. However, it is still common to neglect and even be afraid to address our own mental health. It is even more difficult to confront others — like the young people in our care — about their mental well-being. We often do not have the skills or confidence to address these issues. However, the data clearly indicates that youth need mental health support. One in six students experience mental illness, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10-24-year-olds. Locally, our school counselors also report an increase of students who need mental health services. Counselor responsibilities continue to expand, making it nearly impossible for them to adequately support all the students’ needs. At Indian Lake, we decided to address this problem as an entire staff.

I transitioned to the superintendent’s position in the summer of 2017 and began serving on a committee where I met Steve Terrill. Steve is a mental health advocate, community activist and a member of the Mental Health Drug & Alcohol Services Board of Logan and Champaign Counties. He introduced the Mental Health First Aid program to me. With support of the board of education and the administrative team, we quickly began planning a training event that included every district employee. Bus drivers, food service staff, teachers and office staff — everyone attended.

The training is much like medical first aid. Participants learn to provide lifesaving assistance until appropriate professional resources are available. However, instead of providing medical attention, Mental Health First Aid assists someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. During the eight-hour course, trainees determine how to apply the five-step action plan in a variety of situations. The situations could be helping someone through a panic attack, engaging with someone who may be suicidal or assisting an individual who has overdosed. An important component of the Mental Health First Aid course is the opportunity to practice the intervention strategy rather than just learning about it. Role-playing makes it easier to apply the knowledge to a real-life situation. The training builds an understanding of mental health and helps the public identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness.

Certified instructors teach the nationally-accredited Mental Health First Aid program. The training occurs in either two four-hour sessions or one eight-hour session. There is a maximum of 35 people in each session. At Indian Lake Schools, we trained more than 230 staff and community members during a professional development day. Our philosophy is that all staff members should work together to improve the student experience. We believe that recognizing the signs of mental distress is vital to a safe school environment. It was imperative that EVERY staff member participate in the training. In return, staff received continuing education units and a three-year credential that is valuable on any resume.

The most difficult part of organizing the training was finding enough instructors to serve our entire staff on the same day. I contacted Kathy Oberlin, director of the Ohio Mental Health Network for School Success, and she provided trainers and workbooks free of charge through a grant called Making Ohio Aware: Building Statewide Mental Health First Aid Capacity. Even with the support of the network, we were still short on trainers. We turned to The Ohio State University Extension in Hardin County for assistance. Many extension agencies across the state have certified instructors on staff. In most cases, extension agencies charge a modest fee to cover their mileage and the workbook fees. The workbooks typically cost $20 each.

The training was well-received by our staff, although I will admit that the morning doughnuts and free lunch probably helped to sweeten the deal! We also opened our training up to the community. There were 20 extra people in attendance, including an Indian Lake Board of Education member, educators from other districts, a Logan County commissioner, and State Board of Education Member Linda Haycock. We have plans to coordinate additional community events in the future, and the next phase is to provide training to students.

Mental Health First Aid credentialing is only available to people ages 18 and older. Karey Thompson from the Suicide Prevention Coalition will help us provide Mental Health Gatekeeper Training to our middle school and high school students in April. Gatekeeper training lasts approximately 90 minutes. It teaches students to recognize their own mental health struggles and to understand warning signs in their friends. The main idea is to “Acknowledge, Care, Tell” or to “ACT.”

Focusing on mental health has helped to develop a shared sense of caring in our school district and in the community. Additionally, it has answered many of the questions our staff members faced after experiencing the heartache of student suicides. Finally, parents and community members know that we are doing everything we can to protect the overall health our most valuable assets — our students. I am truly thankful to all the agencies and volunteers that came together to make this training happen. The response has been extremely positive, and I am confident that our district is well equipped to support student mental health, although there is still much work to do.

If you are considering an event in your district or community, feel free to contact me by email or at (937) 686-8601. You can contact Steve Terrill by email, at (919) 623-0952 or on Facebook. Kathy Oberlin also is an excellent resource. I would encourage you to get to know the behavioral health authority in your county. You can find a directory here.

Robert Underwood served as a teacher, principal and coach before becoming the superintendent of Indian Lake Local Schools. To contact Superintendent Underwood, click here.

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4/12/2018

Bold Beginning! A New Online Resource for Building a Bright Start

By: Wendy Grove

GettyImages-133982134.jpgAs a parent of a young child, I often wondered whose advice I should listen to. There was certainly no shortage of advice. It seemed to come from everywhere — my mom, my friends, colleagues, the cashier at the grocery store. When you become a parent, people do seem to have a lot of wisdom to share. Given my experience in early childhood education, I could filter out the well-meaning, but outdated advice from the things I knew had some facts behind them. That does not mean, however, that I actually knew what to expect from an infant or toddler. You hear a lot of new parents joke that they wish their babies came with an instruction manual and it’s true. I used to wonder when my daughter would start walking or if there were signs that would tell me if something was not developing as expected. If I asked another person these questions, I would get lots of advice, reactions and sometimes unsolicited information. Internet searches also were available, but how could I know which sites were truly reliable? Anyone who has searched for a medical symptom online knows that search engines often diagnose a case of sniffles as a rare, deadly disease. So, where exactly can parents turn to for solid advice?

The state of Ohio just released a new resource that I wish would have been there for me when my children were small. It is called Bold Beginning! The goal of Bold Beginning! is to give Ohio’s youngest citizens a great start in life by making information and resources accessible to their caregivers. Getting early access to learning and basic needs is critical. Before we are even born, our brains begin to develop. As infants and young children, the experiences we have shape how our brains will continue to develop. This lays the foundation for all learning that takes place for the rest of our lives. The period between birth and kindergarten is the most rapid phase of development that we will experience in the span of our lives. This is the time when a child learns how to walk, talk, follow rules for safety and hygiene, develop significant relationships with trusted adults and make friends beyond their families. Everything that happens in this period of enormous learning and development has the potential to impact how that child grows, learns and experiences the world during his or her years in school.

Bold Beginning! is a reliable, online resource to learn about everything from healthy pregnancies to child development through the third grade. If parents have concerns about their children’s development or meeting their basic needs, it is a one-stop shop for resources to food, housing, education and child care. There is even legal help and links to family fun. You can enter the site as a parent or caretaker and go right to a page with specific information based on the age of your child. The Family and Community page links to all the resources available throughout the state to help families meet their basic heath, emotional, educational and employment needs.

Finally! A single site with information and resources that families can depend on. It’s not quite an instruction manual, but this is definitely something parents and others who help children and families will want to check out so Ohio’s children can have a bold beginning for a bright future.

Dr. Wendy Grove is the director of the Office for Early Learning and School Readiness at the Ohio Department of Education, where she helps develop and implement policies for preschool special education and early childhood education. You can learn more about Wendy by clicking here.

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Last Modified: 6/1/2016 4:16:44 PM