Helping those who ‘slip through cracks’: IMS targets bullying, at-risk students

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November 15, 2016 - 12:00 AM

The challenges of being a student were a focus of USD 257 board members Monday night.
School administrators and staff told how they are addressing these challenges, including how to help students who are falling behind in their studies and those who face the social problem of bullying.
Students in middle school, grades 5 through 8, are especially vulnerable to bullying, said Stacey Crusinbery, counselor at IMS.
The good news is that over the past six years reports of bullying have decreased substantially, from 55 percent to 13 percent of students, said Crusinbery, as determined from a recent survey in which the 340 students responded anonymously.
Students could report any instances of bullying, including verbal, physical, social or cyber. According to the survey, 43 students reported instances of either being bullied or witnessing someone being bullied.
“Sixth grade is the worst,” Crusinbery said, and verbal abuse is the most common. A student interceding for a friend is the most effective way to curb offensive behavior by others, Crusinbery said.
Certain “hot spots” for bullying include the lunchroom, locker areas, classrooms when a teacher is absent, gym class, and texting on their phones.
Crusinbery said specific measures have improved the school environment, including:
1.    Education about bullying.
2.    The effectiveness of peer intervention.
3.    Making the school environment less prone to bullying including changing the locker rooms, installing cameras and eliminating school lunch lines.
4.    Implementing ChromeBooks. “Kids e-mail me all the time with concerns,” Crusinbery said.
Compared to other school districts in the state and county, USD 257 reports slightly fewer instances of bullying, Crusinbery said. The districts file their findings in an annual report called Kansas Communities that Care.

ALONG THAT same line, school board members approved a student advocate position to work with seventh- and eighth-graders who are “slipping through the cracks,” said Jack Stanley, principal at IMS.
Brad Crusinbery, assistant principal at IMS, reported there are 52 students in those two grades who had “at least one F, sometimes four or five.”
“In our schools today it takes some type of outside support to be successful,” Crusinbery said. “That support could be their parents at the home or from a special teacher.”
But not all students are so lucky and feel no sense of purpose to getting an education, Crusinbery said.
Crusinbery recalled a recent conversation with a middle-schooler he has known since kindergarten.
“He’s struggled every year,” the principal said. “I asked him where he saw himself down the road. ‘What do you want to do?’”
The student replied, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
“The more we got into the conversation, it became clear that he thought nobody really cared about him or what he did with his life,” Crusinbery said.
It’s these students, particularly, who are in danger of dropping out of school — and society — if they don’t turn the corner on their education, added Jack Koehn, USD 257 superintendent of schools.
“If we lose them here, then at some point they most likely will drop out. We want to avoid that,” he said.
The administrators envision the student advocate to work one-on-one with students to help them gain more confidence as students.
“The key is finding the right person,” Koehn said. “It’s someone who can connect to kids and is passionate about helping them make their lives better.”
Such a person may not necessarily be a certified teacher, Koehn said.
“If we find someone with that passion to help these kids, the rest will take care of itself,” he said.
If such a person can be found, “I don’t think we can spend our money any better,” said Koehn.

BOARD members approved a sublease with Fort Scott Community College to use the building outside of LaHarpe for the career technology program.
For this semester, FSCC agreed to pay $3,082, which essentially “covers utilities,” Koehn said.
FSCC provides an instructor for the construction trades class currently being taught. The college then is reimbursed by the state for the instructor and materials required.
“Here’s our dilemma. We have fixed costs such as utilities but they want to pay us according to how many students are enrolled in the program,” Koehn said.
While the program is in its infancy Koehn said such growing pains are to be expected.
“It’s going to cost us a little money to get this going. Other schools understand they have to chip in, too,” he said.
Successful models abound, he said, noting Crawford County’s tech program has about 100  students, including some adults, and garners about $40,000 a year in support.
The likelihood that a production welding class can be implemented by January is growing slimmer.
“We’re in a hoop fest on this,” he said, referring to all the forms required to secure a $122,000 grant from the Goppert Foundation that will be used in part to fund the class.
A minimum of eight students is needed to ensure the class is a go, Koehn said. Six IHS students have expressed an interest, as well as several from Crest, Marmaton Valley and Uniontown schools.

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