EDITORIAL: Helping students get back on track is essential

Getting students back on track academically as well as in a good place emotionally is a big task after the disruption to schools this past year and a half.

To address this, two towns have created programs to give kids a boost in their studies as well as support for their overall well being.

In Meriden, a series of weekend academic sessions known as “Get it Done Saturday” began as the brainchild of Michael Strumski, a Platt High School ninth grade transition specialist. In 2018, he spearheaded an informal version of the program for ninth grade students who needed a little extra help to make sure they passed their classes. Volunteer tutors worked with them one-on-one.

It makes sense that this past school year, Get It Done Saturday was opened up to students across all high school grades as an educator-led initiative to help students achieve academic success despite the pandemic challenges. The program was offered quarterly at both Platt and Maloney high schools. 

One of Platt’s assistant principals, Andrea Fonseca, said for many students the experience of learning from home had been difficult. The Saturday sessions provided a supportive environment free of stress and distractions.

A recent report from the Connecticut RISE Network found that 71% of the 55 students at Platt and Maloney who participated in the Get It Done Saturday sessions were able to catch up and pass classes where they had previously struggled.

Meriden officials haven’t finalized data on how many Platt and Maloney students earned enough academic credit to achieve grade promotion or graduation. But it’s a promising sign that preliminary numbers showed rates that appear similar to pre-pandemic years. 

Statistics aside, there should be no doubt that students did benefit.

 “There’s nothing like sitting one on one with a history teacher to get the help you need in that class,” Strumski said. 

Programs like the Saturday sessions are expected to be sustainable through grant and COVID-19 relief funds for at least the upcoming academic year. 

Cheshire officials are taking action, too, in an effort to help young people return to class. Schools moved to an all-remote model for most of the spring semester in 2020, and then returned to in-school instruction in the fall, with mask and social distancing requirements in place.

With a return to a more routine school year, local leaders wanted to make the transition back to “normal” as smooth as possible. To make that happen, Cheshire is offering multiple support groups for students and parents. 

“We understand that returning to school for some students after a pandemic is a daunting task,” explained Town Manager Sean Kimball.

Cheshire Human Services Committee is offering four different transition support groups to help middle and high school students adapt. The groups begin meeting this month and sessions will address issues like managing stress and anxiety, building coping and distress tolerance skills, improving verbal expression of emotions, establishing an effective back-to-school routine, and crisis conflict resolution. 

There will be similar groups for parents to help them with “navigating all the challenges the pandemic has brought forth, and whatever might lie ahead,” Kimball said.

The extra support given to students, whether there are measurable benefits or not, is the right way to go.  

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