All Articles Education Helping students overcome nonacademic barriers

Helping students overcome nonacademic barriers

5 min read


Nonacademic barriers such as poverty, parental issues, family illnesses, bullying and child abuse can seriously impede a students’ ability to concentrate on instruction and can manifest as behavioral issues. Since teachers and administrators may be the first — or only — line of support for students who are experiencing these issues, it is important for districts to have a plan in place to help students overcome them. More districts are mandating training around these nonacademic barriers so educators can recognize these behaviors and help students in need. Additionally, districts are providing more resources and programming for struggling students.

Dublin City Schools requires educators and administrators to take part in annual training courses on the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), depression and self-destructive behavior, school violence, teen dating violence, substance abuse prevention, positive youth development and child abuse prevention, among other topics. These courses define and list the signs of these nonacademic barriers and provide intervention steps so educators and administrators can effectively intervene and provide support.

For districts looking to mandate similar training, one challenge is the ability to deploy high-quality content. Creating training courses is a time-consuming task. Instead, many districts rely on online training that is built for school systems. With online training, staff members can complete courses at their convenience and in-service days can be used for other instructional training and professional development. In addition, human resources departments no longer have to schedule and reschedule training sessions to ensure staff attendance.

The next hurdle is ensuring educators and administrators actually complete the training. Dublin City Schools implemented a program to ensure educators and administrators have high-quality training content and that all staff members complete training.

The district tracks training completion in the same online platform that deploys it. Synced with the district’s employee roster, the system emails all applicable employees a link to their training and then sends them reminders to complete the course by the deadline. Once the deadline approaches, the HR department receives a report of all employees who still need to complete training, making the follow-up protocol more targeted. Properly trained employees will be better able to recognize issues and help students before issues escalate.

Once educators recognize the nonacademic barrier in a student, they can connect that student to resources and programs for support. Hamilton City Schools in Ohio provides students and families with targeted programming and resources to overcome nonacademic barriers. A “Dear Colleague” letter released by the US Department of Education and the Department of Justice in January, 2011 warned schools of the school-to-prison pipeline, which led the district to take action to better support its large at-risk population — approximately 72% of students in Hamilton City Schools live at or below the poverty line. The district implemented a restorative justice program to instill a sense of community within school buildings to help students manage conflict in a way that is appropriate. Carefully guided discussions with students that include school staff and administrators let students know that when a conflict occurs, they will have a voice in the resolution.

The district also hired a student and family support specialist for each of its eight elementary schools to work as a liaison between the school, teacher, student and family. One of the specialists instituted the Hamilton Youth Pursuing Excellence (HYPE) mentoring program to encourage at-risk students to make the right choices. The program partners varsity athletes with younger students to teach them problem-solving skills, how to manage emotions, how to make and stick to a plan in a difficult situation and more.

Another measure of support is the district’s open houses with social services organizations. The district uses these to bridge the gap between families who need services and the organizations that provide them.

Lastly, Hamilton City Schools started a family counseling program targeting students in grades 5-10 and their families. Students and families come to school one night a week for a family-style dinner, after which the students and families split up. The student portion, called “Why Try?,” is a resiliency-building program. The parent portion, called the “Parent Project,” helps parents solve difficult parenting situations. In the first six weeks of the program, parents learn skills for handling difficult parenting situations and in the final four weeks, they participate in support groups so they know they are not alone.

Training educators to recognize nonacademic barriers, as well as providing the tools and resources students and families need to overcome them addresses the school-to-prison pipeline while helping students achieve academically, socially and emotionally.

Stephanie Armbruster is the coordinator of HR at Dublin City Schools. Matt Tudor is the director of student services and EMIS at Hamilton City Schools.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s email list for more stories about education. We offer newsletters covering educational leadership, special education and more.