LINDEN, NJ — Linden public school administrators have begun mentoring at-risk students to ensure that they do not fall behind or get overlooked while the district continues with remote learning due to COVID-19.
Superintendent Marnie Hazelton tracked student data for the first marking period to identify vulnerable high school and middle school students who were in danger of failing one or more classes. The district is in the process of analyzing data from elementary schools — which operate on a trimester grading system — and will implement a similar mentoring initiative in the lower grades.
More than 400 high school and middle school students were paired up with an administrator who will act as a mentor and maintain contact with the student, their parents or guardians and their teachers.
The mentors will keep in contact with the student for the remainder of the school year to make sure the student attends virtual classes and stays on top of their schoolwork.
“We know that there are several mitigating factors that could hamper these students’ ability to keep up, including illness, parents who work, technology glitches and many others,” Hazelton said. “However, we are going to be proactive in our approach to get all students back on track.”
Thirty-eight mentors, who include Hazelton, Assistant Superintendent Denise Cleary, business administrator Kathleen Gaylord, principals, vice principals, supervisors and directors, made initial contact with the student’s parent or guardian to explain the new initiative and introduce themselves. Mentors will make contact with all of their assigned students weekly to review academic history, establish trust and offer support.
“The mentors will seek to make a genuine connection with the student’s teachers and parents to uplift, encourage and support our mentees,” Hazelton said. “Remember, it takes a village.”
Principals and vice principals will be working with students who are at different schools than their own. Linden High School Principal Yelena Horre said she is proud to be part of a district that understands that everyone is responsible for students’ success.
“This mentorship program conveys to students that Linden public schools is a community; we are all here to offer support and lend a hand,” she said. “I am excited to connect with middle school students and offer support and guidance to make sure they are successful when they get to the high school level. I want them to know that the decisions they are making now matter; and, most importantly, that they matter.”
All students have a district-issued Apple device to use for virtual learning — new MacBook Air laptops at Linden High School and iPad tablets at McManus and Soehl middle schools. In addition, the district technology department has distributed hundreds of Wi-Fi hotspots to families who need them and upgraded the district’s bandwidth for internet capabilities.
Hazelton said the administrators’ involvement is meant to bolster the tireless work already being done by teachers, the district technology department and other staff members.
“Our teachers, counselors, social workers and support staff have been doing an outstanding job in reaching out to encourage and help students through this new world of virtual learning. And our district’s one-to-one technology initiative has put us in a great position to offer virtual learning to every student,” she said. “We wanted to personally involve our administrators — who are the top educational leaders in our district — as another level of support to make sure no student falls through the cracks.”
Soehl Middle School Principal Isabella Scocozza said she has been involved in mentoring for several years in her school and community and has seen firsthand the benefits that it can bring to a child.
“Every young adult needs at least one person in their life to guide and encourage them,” she said. “It is important to be that type of person that you might have needed in your life at that age.
“This is the first time that we are collaborating as a district to ensure that all of our secondary students are receiving the necessary support systems and interventions in order to be successful in our virtual platform and to develop lifelong learners. By pairing our administration with students that are not in our respective schools, it promotes a school- and community-wide effort that we are all here for our Linden students, both on an academic and a social-emotional level.”
McManus Middle School Principal Atiya Perkins explained that mentors will reach out on multiple fronts to make the greatest impact on students.
“To support students who have been identified under the mentoring initiative, I’m using email to initiate the partnership with students and their parents and guardians,” she said. “Telephone calls and the use of Google text messaging will follow up to uplift, encourage and inspire the students to stay on track with their academic performance.”
Hazelton said the district is also planning to hold summer school programs for the first time in years.
“Our approach has been proactive,” she said. “We are keenly aware of the challenges virtual learning poses for our students with different learning styles, specifically those with Individualized Education Plans, 504 plans for disabilities and our English as a Second Language population.
“We also want to support our students who flourish best in a learning environment that includes peer collaboration, small-group activities and hands-on projects,” she continued. “Lastly, we are providing evening and Saturday tutoring opportunities for our working high school students.
“Our whole-child approach is critical in keeping all students engaged, supported and motivated,” she added.
Photos Courtesy of Gary Miller