Check & Connect’s Fit with Existing School Initiatives

In education, initiatives and programs come and go. Schools and districts bring in initiatives, often give them one year to succeed (regardless of how well they’re implemented during that year), and then judge whether or not to keep them. In many cases, they go.

How do we ensure Check & Connect stays? Two strategies come to mind:

  1. Show the difference it’s making through rigorous evaluation (see blog post, Evaluation of Check & Connect at Your Site).
  2. Ensure it fits with existing initiatives in your school and is seen as complementary to existing initiatives rather than an add-on. This post will discuss how you can help Check & Connect achieve that “fit” in your school or district.

Existing Initiatives

Here’s how we believe Check & Connect fits with some of the existing initiatives in schools today.

Early Warning Systems

Twenty-five years of research have uncovered key factors most predictive of student disengagement and dropping out (Balfanz, Bridgeland, Bruce, & Fox, 2012):

  • Attendance (missing 20 days of school or being absent 10% or more of school days)
  • Behavior (2 or more behavior referrals/infractions)
  • Course performance (Below grade level in reading at the end of 3rd grade, failure in math or English in secondary school, a GPA less than 2.0, two or more course failures in 9th grade, or not having enough credits at the end of 9th grade to advance to 10th grade.)

Based on such indicators of disengagement, schools across the country are implementing Early Warning Systems (EWS) to identify students showing signs of disengaging. Once disengaging students are identified, they can be connected to interventions to help re-engage them in school and with learning. Check & Connect is such an intervention, and because it is personalized to the student’s needs, no matter which early warning indicator(s) they are demonstrating, a Check & Connect mentor can work to address those indicator(s) and meet the student’s needs.

Multi-Tiered System of Supports, RTI, and PBIS

Many schools are implementing a tiered system of support, whether academic support, behavioral support, or both. Check & Connect is designed to be a supplemental intervention meant to lend additional support to students who are not experiencing success through the universal interventions in your building. This means that in a multi-tiered system of supports, Check & Connect can be considered a tier 2 and/or tier 3 program.

If Check & Connect targets students showing initial signs of disengagement and is able to serve approximately 20% of the students in a school, it is being used as a tier 2 intervention. Check & Connect students at tier 2 should need just basic intervention – a weekly conversation with their mentor about their educational progress, the importance of staying in school, and overcoming obstacles to success in school.

Pyramid of interventions showing 5% Intensive, 15% Targeted, and 80% Universal.

Some students (about 2-5%) require more intensive supports than just a weekly conversation with a mentor – they may require other individualized interventions designed to meet their needs such as referrals to other services such as tutoring or mental health support, problem solving with school personnel and families, and arranging an alternative to suspension. When targeting students with the most intensive needs, Check & Connect is considered a tier 3 intervention.

As in Response to Intervention (RTI) and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), progress monitoring and data-driven decision-making are used in Check & Connect to determine the appropriate interventions to meet students’ needs. Students may move between tiers, requiring less intensive intervention as they make progress and more intensive intervention as they experience setbacks.

As a comprehensive student engagement intervention, Check & Connect supports students’ academic, behavioral, cognitive, and affective engagement – meaning that it does not fit exclusively into an RTI or PBIS framework, but fits equally well into both. Also, we know that Check & Connect is most successful when strong universal practices are in place to engage students academically and behaviorally. Check & Connect can also contribute to those universal practices; although Check & Connect is a supplemental intervention, practitioners trained in Check & Connect learn valuable skills, such as problem solving with students not for students (see blog post, Problem Solving WITH Students, Not FOR Students: A Book Review) and facilitating goal setting, that they can apply at the universal level to promote student engagement.

Credit Recovery

Many Check & Connect mentees at the high school level are behind in credits. The role of the mentor is to serve as a resource broker and make sure students take advantage of credit recovery options available in their school.

Other Academic and Behavioral Interventions

Check & Connect does not replace other academic or behavioral interventions in your school like after-school tutoring, Read 180, Incremental Rehearsal, intervention classes, the Good Behavior Game, or anger management interventions. Again, Check & Connect mentors really are resource brokers, meaning they help to identify needs students have that others may not see and then connect students to resources or other interventions in the school that will help to address those needs. Check & Connect is one more way to ensure that students are getting the support they need to help them to be successful in school, and one more way to make sure that your school’s existing interventions are serving the students who could benefit from them.

Conclusion

If viewed as a stand-alone program that is “extra” and unrelated to initiatives already going on at your school, Check & Connect will be at constant risk of elimination. By approaching it as complementary to what is already happening in your building, Check & Connect is more likely to be integrated into your school’s practices and be seen as business as usual, making it less likely to be cut when budgets are tight.

Discussion

We’d like to hear your thoughts on this topic. What other initiatives do you have in your school to support students’ engagement and educational success? How does Check & Connect fit in with those initiatives? What other ideas do you have for sustaining Check & Connect?


Reference

Balfanz, R., Bridgeland, J., Bruce, M., & Fox, J. H. (2013). Building a grad nation: progress and challenge in ending the high school dropout epidemic – 2012 annual update. Washington, D.C.: Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University School of Education, America’s Promise Alliance, and the Alliance for Excellent Education.


About the Author: Angie Pohl, Ph.D. provides training nationally and internationally on Check & Connect, serves as an investigator on several Check & Connect research projects currently underway, and is one of the authors of the 2012 Check & Connect manual, “Implementing with Fidelity”.

© 2013 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

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