Applying the Helping Students Stay Course in the Classroom

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!

bio pic Patricia Helmuth2

Patricia Helmuth is an Adult Numeracy Consultant and Educator, who teaches for the Adult Program and SC BOCES in New York. She also works with the Hudson Valley RAEN Regional Staff Developers Network, as a Teacher Leader-Trainer, to provide support for Adult Education Instructors in CCSS mathematics instructional strategies. She recently became Co-Editor of the Math Practitioner, a newsletter published by ANN, The Adult Numeracy Network. Patricia is a contributor to World Education’s Tech Tips for Teachers blog.
Student persistence is a critical first step to enable student success. Helping Students Stay: Exploring Program and Classroom Persistence Strategies is a six-week online course for adult education professionals that explores the six core drivers of persistence, identified in the New England Learner Persistence Project. Participants use this information to create a persistence plan relevant to their own situation. The next session will be starting on March 23. You can read more about the course and register on our website. 

3 thoughts on “Applying the Helping Students Stay Course in the Classroom”

  1. Nice initiative, and its really inspiring but could you also extend this service to Africa in country like Uganda? would really be willing to volunteer in the implementation to blend on our education system here. Thank you.

  2. Patricia,
    This is a phenomenal practice! It really DOES make a difference when students feel part of a community. It causes them to be sure they come to class and check up on those who miss. Great job!!

    1. Sherri,
      Thanks. It’s still a work in progress, so I’d be interested in what others have done in their classes to try to build that sense of community. Thoughts?

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