In order to adjust to the challenges of providing education during a pandemic, both Cambridge Middle School and Isanti Middle School are focused on a program dedicated to providing student-teacher access time.
Cambridge Middle School Principal Chad Gerlach and Isanti Middle School Principal Randy Pauly explained during the school board meeting Sept. 23 that after 19 months living in a COVID-19 pandemic, with multiple disruptions to the lives of students, families, community, and staff, the middle level intentionally implemented a scheduling and programming adjustment to address the myriad of challenges facing middle level students.
Student-teacher access time (STAT) is the schools’ latest effort to proactively meet students’ social emotional needs, while also providing flexible grouping options for students to receive ongoing interventions for their academic needs.
Gerlach talked about the importance of building community and listed several ways the middle schools are doing that, such as promoting Bluejacket Pride and positive behavior interventions and supports; implementing the Where Everyone Belongs (WEB) program; hosting a Cambridge Middle School Cares Color Run; hosting a Power of Words presentation; hosting a Google Online Safety Roadshow at Isanti Middle School; and promoting Rachel’s Challenge and Change to Chill Program.
“One of the, probably, hallmark pieces of what we’ve had the opportunity to do is to introduce WEB into both middle schools,” Gerlach said. “It’s an opportunity for our sixth graders to transition into the middle level where we offer just that time for those incoming sixth grade students to get acclimated with our building. It’s a tremendous opportunity that’s offered at both buildings.”
Pauly said results from 2019 Minnesota Student Surveys show that students are struggling to deal with things that are hard in their lives; are bothered by feeling nervous, anxious or on edge; and aren’t able to stop or control their worrying.
Pauly said seeing those kinds of statistics is why student-teacher access time is so important.
“And as Chad (Gerlach) said, STAT is something that they’ve been doing at CMS for a number of years,” Pauly said. “We’ve done some similar things at Isanti Middle School with advisory and some of those things, but this is also something that we wanted to present to our teachers as we’re kind of resetting for STAT for this year. It’s about relationships and academics. ... It’s one more way to concretely move us toward our student goals and our school goals.
“But now more than ever, those student goals really include social-emotional learning. And this isn’t the cure all, it’s not going to fix everything. But it’s another way for us to move forward together,” Pauly added.
Pauly explained middle school teachers see nearly 200 students on a daily basis.
“If I’m a teacher in eighth grade, I have 190 kids coming through my door every day,” Pauly said. “Relationships are important, and I want my teachers to have a relationship with those students, but that’s really hard to develop that strong relationship with those 190 students. However, by doing STAT, and having that period, that little extra period every day, as an eighth grade teacher, I can work with those 30 kids and I can be their STAT adviser, really making that teacher be the go-to staff person for those kids.”
Gerlach said student-teacher access time has been very successful at Cambridge Middle the past couple of years.
“We can’t put a value on those relationships,” Gerlach said. “The connectivity that you can make with just that little bit of extra time goes a long way. As we’ve transitioned through different schedules over the course of the last couple years, this has come back as the resounding piece that we have to find time in our schedule to put this opportunity not only for relationships but for academics as well.”
Pauly said student-teacher access time allows every teacher a little bit more time to focus on students in their STAT advisory, but it’s not a time to add more work to the students’ workload.
“As a STAT adviser I’m really there to help, and we need to make that connection clear for students as well as staff,” Pauly said. “I’m not really here to add more stuff to you. I’m just here to really help you. And it’s a lot easier to build relationships with kids when they don’t consider you as being someone who’s putting more expectations on them.”
As an effort to build relationships between peers, Pauly mentioned the number of student clubs and activities the middle school offers such as Friends of Rachel, Student Council, National Junior Honor Society, Change to Chill, and various sports and activities.
Pauly said part of student-teacher access time is identifying students who may need interventions and helping those students progress and monitor their grades, attendance and behaviors.
“It’s not only about interventions, it’s opportunities for enrichment and enhancement as well,” Gerlach said. “It’s hard to put value on it without being in the building and actually seeing it, but what a tremendous opportunity for our students to be able to experience it every day, and I’m happy that we have the opportunity not only at CMS but at IMS to be able to put it into the schedule as well this year.”