Godwin Heights— It was 9:30 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, usually Godwin Heights High chemistry teacher Grace Boersma’s prep time. But on this day she stood at the front of the lab area handing out T-shirts to seniors who signed the Godwin Family Promise.
“I don’t think anyone is going to be able to see that,” she joked with one of the students, whose signature was clearly legible from where Boersma stood, a couple feet from the poster.
“This is much easier than what we used to do,” she said after the students had left. “We used to take it around to each classroom to have the students make the promise.”
High school students go through a lesson and commit to three goals they think will help them do well in school and graduate with their class. And if that is what it takes to help a student succeed, then Boersma doesn’t mind occasionally giving up her prep time.
For about the past six years, the district’s middle- and high-school teams have worked to lay much of the foundation for its multi-tiered systems of support program. MTSS is a framework schools use to support all students in the areas of attendance, behavior and course proficiency.
Boersma and middle-school special education teacher Andrea Whitsell are the MTSS leads for their respective schools. Their roles include developing and teaching positive behavior expectations, implementing incentives and monthly rewards, collecting perception data and brainstorming and implementing additional targeted supports.
Middle and high school Principal Chad Conklin said the pair’s dedication is what has made the program a success.
“Both Boersma and Whitsell have done a fantastic job of taking ownership of MTSS and have worked hard to create alignment at the secondary level to support both students and staff,” Conklin said.
Stepping Into the Role
Katie Hoffman, Godwin’s MTSS coordinator, was the high school lead who helped the school incorporate the MTSS program. When Hoffman took on her district role, Conklin reached out to Boersma about becoming the school’s MTSS lead.
“At first I wasn’t certain about it because I have only been with the district for seven years,” Boersma said. She joined the MTSS team a couple of years ago and had seen the impact of the program.
Boersma has worked with staff members on the power of conversations with students over punishment as well as utilizing the youth development coordinators, who will come into a classroom to work with a student.
“I think by sharing how I use the youth development coordinators allowed other staff to see how beneficial it can be for both students and also teachers,” Boersma said. “I like to think that students like coming to my classroom, and one of the reasons for that is that if something were to go wrong their voice is important for that situation to be resolved.”
A focus of both the middle school and high school is using data to determine ways to help students develop the skills to be successful. Along with leading quarterly data meetings, Boersma also works with Hoffman to set up the advisory calendar and with teachers on what they want sent out during the advisory period. She also helps with a MTSS student lunch, where students interested in improving the school look at the data and share their ideas.
The MTSS team’s work has had positive results: In 2016-17 there were 545 write-ups for class disruption in the first semester. In the first semester of 2020-21, that dropped to 14.
“It is awesome to know how it feels in the classroom is similar to the data we see with the write-ups,” Boersma said.
Showing Their PRIDE
Similar to the high school, the middle school MTSS meets about twice a month during the school year and a few days over the summer. The team starts the year by looking at the data and determining an action plan. This year, the start process was delayed as students returned to in-person school, but once the team did look at the data they discovered students had slid, with the use of electronics such as cell phones being a problem.
“Many of these students had not been in a classroom for almost two years,” Whitsell said. “Some of our seventh-graders had never stepped foot in the building, as they were in elementary school when the pandemic started.”
That meant re-educating everyone on PRIDE. The best way is leading by example, so MTSS team members and staff showed students best practices and expectations for checking out a book, getting lunch in the cafeteria or simply how to walk down the hall.
“By listening to my teacher I show pride in the classroom,” said seventh-grader Trammell Emanuel, a member of the middle school’s MTSS student focus group. “By not running in the hallways, I show pride. It is good because I am able to show pride in my school by what I do.”
Emanuel said he has also enjoyed contributing his voice to help make the school better by offering suggestions on items for the school store that students can purchase with PRIDE bucks they earn.
“Sometimes something works, and sometimes it doesn’t,” Whitsell said. “You really have to look at the data to see what is going on and what support we might be able to offer to help the students.”
While there still might be challenges – such as cell phones in the classroom – the results have been positive overall. And Whitsell credits her team for that.
“What I am most proud of is all of the work the team puts forth tirelessly,” Whitsell said. “We brainstorm, we think outside the box and we always have the best interest of the building in mind.”