As we start the second semester, families often sit down together, look at grade reports and think about what a student can do to improve. As I mentioned in my last letter, a "growth mindset" is absolutely critical for students. They have to believe and understand that if they apply themselves, they can make progress in class, in the studio or on the playing fields.
I want to devote this letter to the resources that Burroughs has devoted to supporting students who are committed to improving their academic performance.
The first and most important resources students have are their teachers. I strongly believe that one of the single best qualities a student can develop is initiative in meeting with faculty. To help make our teachers available to students, we have found ways to carve out time during the busy school day.
For example, nearly all of our humanities classes meet four days a week instead of five to free up time for students and teachers to have one-on-one time – and English teachers have a slightly lighter teaching load so they can work with developing writers.
Frequently a student and teacher find that they don't share any free periods, and, if that is the case, we have built in extra late start days for kids to meet with teachers before assembly. Many kids also use time after they've finished lunch or just after school before practices or rehearsals.
Students should learn to look at their teachers’ schedules, make an appointment, and then show up. Whenever they meet, students should enter the meeting with specific questions and examples of work that has been puzzling them.
As I look at the semester comments and e-slips that faculty write, "see me" or "make an appointment to talk to me" are the most common recommendations to the kids. But from time to time, students may find that they need more frequent support or a different style of support, and we have developed a number of programs to help them.
Advisors: While very few advisors can provide subject-specific instruction, what an advisor can do is help students learn to make contact with teachers, communicate regularly, and advocate for themselves – and for younger students, help them improve their general study and organizational skills.
Walk-in Math Help: The Math Department has developed regular "walk-in" periods during which faculty are available to meet with students from any class. For some students hearing a different teacher explain a concept in a different way can be helpful. A schedule for walk-in help is posted outside most math classrooms. Principals also have a copy of the schedule.
Peer Tutors: In the Math and Science departments, a number of students have been identified and given some training to work with younger students as peer tutors. For some students, having a peer explain concepts or practice together can be very helpful. Students should talk to their teacher or advisor first, and then with math chair Laura Crowley or science chair Wayne Winters to get connected with a peer tutor.
Health and Wellness Department: Sometimes the root of the problem is more emotional or developmental than academic. Our counselors can help students identify issues that may hinder their success in the classroom.
Principals: Students should never fail to reach out to their principals, who see a student's total experience and can provide insight into why a student struggles. The principals' perspective is enriched by weekly meetings with grade-level counselors, and they work with advisors when they see larger patterns.
Academic Support: We have a remarkably robust Academic Support Department that consists of two full-time specialists and six part-time folks who meet individually with kids. However, this resource is by referral only, and many are not aware that very little of the support that is provided is subject-specific. The department provides testing accommodations and works with students on their study skills, but does not provide tutoring in individual subjects. For students who have documented learning differences or temporary medical issues (a broken hand that makes writing difficult, a concussion that makes prolonged focus impossible, depression or anxiety), our team does a wonderful job of providing support. Speak to your child's principal to make use of this resource. Students in academic support learn to advocate for themselves and receive necessary accommodations, but they are never relieved from content or assignments for a given course.
Burroughs offers a challenging curriculum, but we are mindful of what we can do as educators to help our students be successful. I hope this has been helpful to you as parents.