Students Without Outside Help



How do we help kids who may not have much help outside of school? In several previous posts, I’ve shared some midyear ideas on how to help kids with organization and assessment. Now I’d like to talk about things we can do when our students don’t have enough family or other resources beyond school walls to give them the extra support they need to be successful in the classroom.

“We didn’t do this when I was in school.”

For many of our students, the adults in parental roles are also their grandparents — folks who haven’t been in a middle school classroom in quite awhile. They will be the first to tell you, “We never did this when I was in junior high school (which was very different than middle school).”

Or: “My grandchild has to do a Power Point for History class; I can’t help him because he’s the one who taught me how to write an e-mail.”

We smile with understanding because we know their hearts are in the right place, but they truly don’t know how to help with many of the things we ask students to do today.

Different ways to help

I send home a letter at the beginning of the year, as well as posting a message on my page, and verbally tell my students to have the “adults you live with” check your agenda book each evening and sign it.

Since many of my students may live with a foster parent, aunt, grandparent or legal guardian in addition to a parent, the adult they live with acknowledges all the different kinds of parental relationships they may have. It  can provide a first step in assistance for the student, as well as finding a way to communicate between the home and school. I tell my students how “these are the people in your life who want to hear stories about your day. Describe to them what you did each period/subject/class, and show them as well.” Sometimes this simple task lets the student know that someone at home is checking on them.

When I call and e-mail families, I will ask them if they could please do this and feel free to write me a short note: “we bought the supplies for the history project,” or “Jose had a difficult time understanding the math.” When they engage, I learn something, and we all benefit.

Language barriers

Many of the students in my district speak another language at home, and their parents do not speak English, so they find providing assistance on assignments daunting. All of our documents sent home as well as information on our school and district’s web page can be translated into several other languages. In addition, we can contact the head of the ELL department to have an interpreter present for any parent meetings, as well as annual and initial review meetings.

cell-100I am not shy about asking a student to act as an interpreter to help me on the phone when my student may need assistance with finding materials for a project, organizing their materials at the kitchen table, or obtaining a snack so when they stay after school for help they will have something to eat.

I have found over the years my students love to assist me with this important role, and they will often teach me a few words in their native language as well.

Contacting Parents and Guardians via alternate methods

In today’s economy, many adults work long hours, sometimes going to two jobs to make ends meet, and they often aren’t able to help their children with homework due to work schedules. When they get home their children are already asleep or getting ready for bed.

Just this morning I was chatting with my assistant principal about a student who is struggling. My student is being raised by a grandparent, and I hadn’t had any luck contacting the home. We had a meeting scheduled but the grandparent didn’t attend. Miriam, our vice principal, had been developing a phone relationship with the grandparent due to some tardiness concerns and suggested I call her this morning.

To my relief, when I called I reached the grandparent, who followed up with a very insightful chat from work. I also e-mailed the grandparent at work and provided links to all of the grandchild’s teachers’ homework pages. We chatted about the upcoming report card grades, the important projects and tests next week, and the two days her grandchild could stay for extra math help each week.

PickUpDropOffIt also turned out the family had moved, and the meeting notice had gone to the old address. Sometimes just verifying an address may explain why the adult didn’t come to a meeting as requested — they never received the notice. It’s helpful in the beginning of the year and again in midyear to verify if the family has moved, has a new phone number, etc.

If a student gets driven to school and picked up by an adult they live with, I may follow the student out to the parking lot at the end of the day and have the child introduce me to them through the car window. I give them a business card with my e-mail address, school and home number on it, and ask if they could call me when they have a chance, so we can get caught up.

It’s funny how meeting face to face in the parking lot — even for a brief moment — puts a face to a name and can open the lines of communication.

Being available before and after school

I recently found out that one of my students who was struggling had a baby with health difficulties born into his family. Mom had been spending many days at the hospital and appointments. When I contacted his parent, she asked if we could meet one day after school. We met that very day, with her infant in a carriage, and my student alongside. It was a wonderful chat as we mapped out how we could help her son, with input from him as well.

coffee-chat-150If you’re early to school, maybe a quick meeting over a morning cup before the parent/guardian goes to work is a possibility. I had a student last year who had serious emotional challenges. His mom would meet me briefly in the morning over coffee before she went to her job. It was only for a short period of time, but the meetings were so valuable. She could share if her son had had a difficult night, morning, weekend, etc. and I was able to use that information in our work with him.

After School Help / Homework Club / MOODLE / Tutoring

Many schools have after-school clubs. Our middle school provides homework club to coincide with the two days the late buses are available. Our students who stay late have access to printers and computers and support from National Junior Honor Society members. In addition, some of these NJHS students monitor our school system’s Moodle site, a secure place for the 7th & 8th graders to help younger grade students. They’ve learned the material in the past, so they can often provide peer tutoring in the evenings.

after-school-300Our teachers, probably like the teachers in your school and district, provide afternoon help sessions several days a week (we do two). For many of our students this is a great time to reteach a lesson, especially in skill-based subjects like math and written expression, as well as technology skills. If a student has been absent for several days, this can also be a great time for kids to get caught up, watch a video they may have missed, or spend time in a quiet, structured setting to work on a project.

Our school librarian provides after-school help, and lunch time help as well.  Our principals also tutor students when they are in the cafeteria after school for detention. We’ve had kids come to the cafeteria to get help even when they don’t have detention. Our vice principal is a former middle school and high school math teacher, and our principal is a former middle school and high school science teacher. Nice skill sets!

These are some of the practices our teachers and school follow to help kids who need extra support and may not have enough of it outside of school. What are some other ways you, your team or school helps kids in similar situations?

Laurie Wasserman

Laurie Wasserman is a National Board Certified 6th-grade special needs teacher in Medford, Massachusetts. She has been teaching for 32 years, has written articles for Education Week, Teacher Magazine and Education World, all about her love of working with kids who “learn differently.” She is also a co-author of the 2011 book Teaching 2030: What We Must Do for Our Students and Public Schools Now and in the Future. Laurie is a member of the Boston Writing Project, and Teacher Leaders Network, as well as a new teacher mentor.

2 Responses

  1. sharifa says:

    Students always need help after school hours as much as during school hours. It is important that students get support when needed. that is why there should be different resources that students can access at all time.

    • Sharifa,
      Thank-you so much for writing. I agree that we should be available for help as often as possible.
      Would love to hear about your school and how they help kids whether it is during the day or after school.

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