Even though my schedule was pretty much maxed out, I decided to make time for the Helping Students Stay course. Our program had a number of students, more than we were comfortable with, who didn’t make it past the twelve hour mark. What was going on? What I found out when I took the course is that what our program was experiencing was by no means an anomaly. It was happening all over, especially in rural areas similar to mine, where transportation is a big issue. However, what I also learned as the course progressed is that many programs have implemented strategies to curb this trend. Some of those programs had really impressive turnarounds so if they could do it, why can’t we?
I started in my own classroom by trying to figure out how I could do a better job of building a sense of community and belonging, one of the drivers of persistence identified in the course. I had noticed that the ESL classes in my program seemed to have that going and I wondered why. True, they have the commonality of coming to a new country and needing to adjust to a different culture and learn a new language. But it was more than that. For example, they always had coffee brewing and frequently brought in goodies to share with each other.
Coffee, I decided, is something I can do. So, I commandeered a coffee pot and brought in the fixings for the coffee. I also went out to the dollar store and bought a bunch of white mugs and some paint markers. I gave the students a mug to decorate and call their own, as you can see pictured above. My class is open enrollment, so every new student gets one as well, and I really enjoy watching their reaction when I hand them the mug and the markers. To be sure, I can see by the looks on their faces that it wasn’t something they were expecting, but rather, a pleasant surprise.
Did this make a difference? I think it’s too soon to tell; although, I did have a student say to me today, “I don’t know what it is, but when I come in here I just want to take off my shoes. It feels like home.” I’ve also had the number of students who attend class more than once a week double over the last two months (my class is scheduled four mornings per week).
In the meantime, I created a student survey that all students in our program are filling out. We plan, as a program, to carefully examine these surveys, along with the persistence strategies I learned about in the Helping Students Stay course, so that we can make some decisions about what we might change in order to boost our classroom attendance program-wide. Our goal is to implement some of these changes by the start of the 2016-2017 school year. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be reading about our program’s success story this same time next year!