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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Schools get $5 million boost to help students reconnect with learning

St. Louis County board commits COVID funds for three-year mentoring project

Posted 8/18/21

REGIONAL- Disruptions to student learning during the COVID-19 pandemic caused many students to be disconnected from their schools, and the St. Louis County Board has made a $5 million commitment to …

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Schools get $5 million boost to help students reconnect with learning

St. Louis County board commits COVID funds for three-year mentoring project

Posted

REGIONAL- Disruptions to student learning during the COVID-19 pandemic caused many students to be disconnected from their schools, and the St. Louis County Board has made a $5 million commitment to help re-engage those students and get them back on track for academic success.
Throughout the pandemic, as school districts, by necessity, shifted to hybrid and distance learning models, they reported that many students stopped attending, were unresponsive to outreach, fell behind in grades and credits, and some were unenrolled. 
St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services collaborated with school districts throughout the county to determine an effective solution, and together they selected the Minnesota-based Check and Connect model.
Check and Connect is an intervention program successfully used for 30 years with K-12 students who show warning signs of disengagement with school and who are at risk of dropping out. Through Check and Connect, a caring, trained mentor builds a trusting relationship with the student, serving as an advocate for the student while also challenging the student to keep education a priority. Students are referred to Check and Connect when they show warning signs such as poor attendance, behavioral issues, and/or low grades.
Research shows that Check and Connect positively impacts students by:
decreasing truancy, tardies, behavior referrals, and dropout rates;
increasing attendance, persistence in school, credits accrued, and school completion; and
improving literacy skills.
The funding comes from the $54 million federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) award to the county and will pay for 36.5 mentor positions for 15 districts or charter/private schools in St. Louis County to serve approximately 1,000 students. Two coordinators for the northern and southern halves of the county will be based in the ISD 2142 and Proctor school districts. 
“During this past year, we had students who stopped attending school and did not enroll in another school. We had students who fell behind and who thought distance learning was going to work for them, but it did not. We have students who struggled with mental health issues due to the isolation of COVID or from family issues due to COVID,” said Superintendent Reggie Engebritson of St. Louis County Schools and Mountain Iron-Buhl school district, who has past experience with Check and Connect. “We know from research that to engage students to learn, we need to build relationships with them. This program will allow us to add additional adults to our teams to make connections with students and provide the support they need to either get back on track educationally or stay on track and make progress towards graduation.”
Vermilion Country School Administrator Frank Zobitz said the quick action by the county board will truly help area students who are struggling, since schools will have the new mentors in school buildings this fall.
“This gives us an opportunity to monitor and help our students’ success in attendance, behavior, and coursework by having a dedicated staff person just focusing on those elements.” The staff will also be working with students’ families and connecting them to services available in the community, if needed.
“We have already found a wonderful person to hire,” said Zobitz, “who has experience working with students with both mental health and academic needs.”
The grant will allow a small school, like Vermilion Country, to have a mentor in the building three days a week for the next three school years, Zobitz said.
“We need this type of program,” he said, “and hope to keep it going long-term.”
During last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting, St. Louis County commissioners were enthusiastic in their support.
“This is huge. This investment is going to pay dividends for us down the road,” said Commissioner Paul McDonald, of Ely, a former educator.
School districts will be hiring mentors in the coming weeks. The county is working with the University of Minnesota to coordinate and provide training for the mentors.
Editor Jodi Summit contributed to this story, submitted by St. Louis County.

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