MAKING AN IMPACT – Supporting Student Welfare and Engagement

In schools across the nation, the need for student behavioral and mental health support is unlike anything seen before. Many students are facing challenges adjusting to changes in their learning environments, recovering from lack of social interaction, and in some cases, coping with instability in their home life that has been amplified by COVID and economic hardships. Suspension, truancy, and graduation rates reveal the results of these challenges.

Last spring the Foundation for VPS provided supplemental funding for two new VPS programs focused on improving attendance, engagement, and truancy rates. The Student Welfare & Truancy and IMPACT programs provide structure for students needing greater support and intervention for mental and behavioral health. Based on the success of the initiatives, the Foundation for VPS has increased funding support for the programs this school year to reach even more students.

The Student Welfare & Truancy Program expanded student engagement work to target severely and chronically absent students and support students in a proactive manner through interventions and incentives. VPS hired additional staff who are bilingual in Spanish and Chuukese, and expanded staffing hours to support students and keep them engaged during the summer break.

The IMPACT Program, an acronym for improvement, mind, pride, achievement, character and teamwork, is an alternative to exclusionary programs and provides support and resources to help students gain the coping skills to address issues negatively impacting their access to education.

Students in grades 6-12 who would be out of school due to behavior are provided with an alternate setting for learning to get a fresh start while working to get back on track so that they don’t become credit deficient and at risk from not graduating. IMPACT engages the most at-risk students by providing a rigorous academic program that connects students through relevance to their lives and the development of strong relationships though powerful teaching and learning. The goal is to take students who have been disenfranchised from traditional school settings and support them in their efforts to re- engage in their own personal education and success in school and beyond.

Students in the program have been expelled for various reasons, but one characteristic they all have in common is their need for decision-making skills and dealing with frustration and anger. The program combats youth violence through broad-based partnerships with multiple education and service organizations to provide a “village” of support for holistic, individualized, and differentiated instruction for youth offenders disciplined for acts of violence at school. Students get individualized attention from staff trained to address their unique needs with a program tailored specifically to the individual student, including an art component, advocacy, Aggression Replacement Training (ART), and academic coursework.

IMPACT students are actively involved with designing, implementing and promoting the program to ensure that the intent and impact align. The program also includes resources and support for siblings of the IMPACT students as a prevention outreach while also promoting positive citizenship and service learning opportunities for participants.

With the two initiatives, VPS is shifting the culture from expelling students because of their behavior, to addressing the underlying causes with interventions. “VPS is developing programs that shower at risk kids with love, joy, and support and celebrates the gifts they have, rather than focus on negative behavior,” said Elizabeth Mikaele, director of the District’s student welfare and attendance department.

The Foundation for VPS continues to partner with the District to incorporate and elevate the voices of the students we serve. Addressing the student mental health and behavioral crisis is one critical component to ensure all students have equitable access to education.