A Black female nurse wearing scrubs with colorful hot air balloons comforts a young girl in a hospital children's area.

Exceptional Situations, Exceptional Students: Networks to Support Students in Intensive Circumstances

If we want to help vulnerable youngsters become more resilient, we need to decrease their exposure to potent risk factors and increase their competencies and self-esteem, as well as the sources of support they can draw upon.

– Emmy Werner

What kinds of connections do you have with outside supports in your school district?

  • As a former building principal, we had several students in the local hospital and found their connection and support amazing. At the same time, however, districts and building leaders don’t always know of their support systems.
  • We have connections with community organizations programs to help engage and reengage students in school. Many of the organizations are culturally specific and mentor-based. Referrals are discussed in Tier 3 meetings.
  • Students come from outside the neighborhood with lots of needs. We have a bilingual community liaison and wraparound services like a food pantry, and even a nutrition club where students get a box of food and a recipe.
  • Working together to support kids before they need the intensive support of a hospital program or 5150s. Students (and parents) knowing they are safe at school and having people they know and trust is just as, if not more, important than education.
  • Having a strong 504 planning apparatus is important. It follows a kid throughout their years, from elementary to middle to high school.
  • A program called E-flex which can help transition a kid back into instruction. It’s a combination of online and, if the student is able, in-person instruction. This is helpful as a way to start conversations about transitions and how to care for students as people; it creates a mindset of flexibility that has been missing in education. We should be supporting students regardless of their circumstances and meeting them where they are.

What kinds of challenges have you had? What challenges do your students face in staying connected to the classroom and their education?

  • Building trust with teachers and parents, especially during/after COVID; staffing and filling positions with qualified people.
  • Figuring out how to leverage technology use and keeping students engaged. Healthy communication, especially with students who are out of school for any period of time. Fewer home visits, and apprehension about visiting homes.
  • Diversity in staff is important in increasing the likelihood that a kid will have someone they will connect with.
  • The 10-day drop rule is a challenge. How do you stop a district from disconnecting a student? Kids lose access to school, which disconnects them from their identity as a student. Kids know how to do school, even if they don’t always like it, and gives them a sense of normalcy & belonging. (One possible solution is to be creative with flexibility around drops: Zoom in a teacher on day 9, or keep them connected to their programs even if they are “dropped.”)

How can you be proactive and intentional in building structures that support students in extreme and intensive situations?

  • Relying on virtual structures that have been developed during COVID. Using those structures for students who aren’t necessarily having big crises, but are regularly sick, are pregnant, have to work and are always late, etc. And that is helpful for students with IEPs as well.
  • Inherent differentiation
  • Importance of flexibility in instruction for ALL students (targeted universalism)
  • If you plan your programs thinking about the student who needs the most support or is the most vulnerable, then that benefits all other students too
  • Can qualify a medically fragile student for home instruction, but that has its own difficult parameters in OR (four weeks) and in CA (burns out teachers). Strong case managers can help.
  • Modifying kids’ schedules. Asking for forgiveness instead of permission.

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