East Kelloggsville Elementary School kindergartner Ricky Brooks threw his arms around Student Service Coordinator Christie Alexander in a big hug. “Thank you!” he exclaimed.
Alexander had spent a few minutes with Ricky, helping him line up paperclips to make shapes during a class activity. Since meeting him on the first day of school, she has gotten to know Ricky well by checking on him every day.
He thrives from the positive attention, said teacher Kathi Burke. Alexander’s job is to provide students with someone to turn to if they need a break or need to talk, and students, including Ricky, benefit from it. “It makes a kid feel needed,” Burke said.
“Some of the kids just need a break… a walk in the hallway,” Burke said. They come back ready to listen after a little time with Alexander. “Five minutes is usually enough.”
Covering the Spectrum of Need
A few blocks away at West Kelloggsville Elementary School, Student Service Coordinator Sara Cinadr checked third-grader Jayden Mast’s blood sugar level and administered an insulin shot to control his diabetes. At the same time, they discussed what was making Jayden a little “grumpy.”
And at Southeast Elementary School, Student Service Coordinator Bilal Muhammad spun a basketball atop his finger and tried to pass it onto the fingertip of fifth-grader Lily Vandergeld in mid-rotation. Before that, he greeted students on the way to recess, taking note of every student who walked by.
“Christopher, where are your glasses?” he asked one student.
Alexander, Cinadr and Muhammad began the new full-time district positions in September. They are modeled after Kent School Services Network, a countywide program that brings social and medical services to students’ schools and homes. KSSN is run through a partnership with local districts and Kent ISD, and Kelloggville’s Southeast Elementary School had a KSSN community site coordinator and clinician for several years.
To provide equitable services to all elementary schools, the district, which has a high-poverty population, hired its own staff to fill the roles, said Tammy Savage, assistant superintendent for the district.
“We’re an extra support, and we support in whatever way we’re needed,” Cinadr said.
Muhammad is a former athletic director for Riverside Middle School in Grand Rapids Public Schools; Alexander is a former high school guidance counselor, elementary school counselor and has worked in juvenile justice and with Child Protective Services. Cinadr is a former GRPS teacher.
The student service coordinators focus on attendance and behavior and form relationships with students during recess and lunch. They check in on students who need extra attention. They communicate with families and make home visits to establish rapport with families and emphasize the importance of attendance.
“We provide positive feedback for students and see them at least twice a day to talk to them about what good choices they are making and say, ‘Keep up the good work,'” Cinadr said.
She can relate to teachers who need a helping hand. “Coming from the classroom, I loved teaching; I loved my students, but there were so many needs that I saw that I couldn’t meet on my own, with having to balance the academics, and the relationships, and the calling home. And the this. And the that.”
Muhammad grew up in a single-parent home with his mother, a school principal. He looks to her as a role model for how to build relationships with students.
“We know it’s all about ‘it takes a village,’ ” he said.