An intervention program aimed at promoting student engagement and retention is beginning this year in nine school districts across Southwest Colorado, including Durango, Ignacio and Bayfield.
The program, called Check and Connect, targets students who are at risk of dropping out and pairs them with trained mentors. The goal is to intervene early and strengthen students connection to school, said Kay Augustine, a national trainer with Check and Connect.
Mentors work with students over two years. They meet with students regularly, check on schoolwork and attendance and work with students families if necessary. Over time, they build relationships with students and motivate them to attend class every day.
Were providing support, Augustine said. When students have a sense of belonging, they become more engaged in school.
The program has been used successfully in schools across the nation, including Cortez Middle School and Montezuma-Cortez High School.
Of the 56 students mentors worked with, 80 percent reduced their number of behavioral referrals and 50 percent improved their attendance, said Nancy Davis, a school counselor at Cortez Middle School.
In local schools, mentors will work with high school freshmen because educators have found the transition from eighth to ninth grade is one of the hardest for students to make, said Lauren Ellison, the local coordinator with Check and Connect. It is the point when kids start disengaging from school, she said.
Ellison works for the San Juan Board of Cooperative Educational Services, a regional organization that provides specialized services for students. A grant from the Colorado Department of Education allowed San Juan BOCES to bring Check and Connect to the region.
The money was used to hire and train 10 mentors to work in high schools from Silverton to Dove Creek to Pagosa Springs. All are in the process of identifying ninth-graders who would benefit from the program.
Mentors use criteria such as grades, attendance and behavior referrals to select students. Coordinators also keep track of students progress.
Diane McCarthy, a part-time counselor at Durango High School and future mentor with Check and Connect, said the key to the program is catching students before they have thoughts of dropping out.
Its all about being proactive and providing intervention instead of woulda, shoulda, coulda, she said.
Mentors in Cortez have seen firsthand the difference the program can make for students.
For the majority of these kids, the only engagement theyre used to having with staff is negative, said Andrew Pearson, a Check and Connect mentor at Montezuma County High School. Its a new thing to have positive engagement and someone they can talk to. Students start feeling like they belong in school.