Published 12:00 am Friday, June 29, 2007

The term “at risk” student/students is used frequently in education circles and can be defined in many ways. For this article, the term at-risk will refer to children who are more likely to experience difficulty in school or in life because of family or environmental circumstances.
It does not appear that any one single factor places a child at-risk. Rather, when more than one factor is present, there is an escalating effect, and the likelihood for failure increases significantly. However, poverty is considered a major at-risk factor for children (Leroy & Symes, 2001). Numerous studies document that poverty and the associated disadvantages negatively affect student learning and achievement. Children living in poverty are more likely than their peers to face barriers to school success, such as:
– parents with low educational attainment
– underemployment or unemployment
– lower expectations
– homelessness
– high mobility or lack of early educational experiences
The effects of poverty increase the likelihood that children will enter school without the skills, competencies and emotional intelligence they need to meet success (Corrigan & Udas, 1996). The larger the number of students of poverty in a school, the more challenging it becomes to meet state and federal accountability standards.
According to federal guidelines, free and reduced lunch is the low-income/poverty measure for identifying schools to receive federal funding under Title I. In the Rowan-Salisbury School System, 19 out of 20 elementary schools are eligible to receive Title I funding. Our systemwide percentage is 48 percent. In our elementary schools, the percent of students on free and reduced lunch ranges from 32 percent to 79 percent.
Three elementary schools have a school percentage of 74 percent and above รณ Koontz Elementary, North Rowan and Hanford Dole. The schools with higher levels of poverty need additional, targeted support and resources to succeed academically. Highly qualified, nurturing, academically focused and respectful administrators and staff are necessary at all of our schools, but particularly at our schools with the most at-risk student population.
As a school system, we have already implemented programs and strategies to provide extra assistance to the schools that have the highest level of poverty. Several high-poverty schools received an extra teacher over their allotment to lower class size last year. The three schools in the 70 percent free and reduced lunch range will receive two extra teachers over the systemwide allotment formula for this coming school year.
The three schools in the 70 percent range will have two assistant principals rather than one for the coming school year.
Additional federal Title 1 funding is determined by using a per pupil amount multiplied by the number of children who receive free and reduced lunch. Koontz Elementary will receive $340,500 for the 2007-2008 school year, North Rowan Elementary will receive $246,000, and Hanford Dole will receive $317,250. School Improvement Teams have the authority and flexibility to decide how the funds will be used at the school level. The team may choose to use the funds for:
– additional personnel
– lower class size
– professional development
– computer technology
– parental involvement activities
– research based reading and math programs
– instructional supplies
The school system has also applied for a federal grant that would provide additional resources for after-school programs for these three schools.
A study of high-poverty yet high-performing schools reveals the following common characteristics:
– high expectations and a belief that all students could succeed academically
– respectful relationships among adults, between adults and students, and among students
– academic, instructional focus
– ongoing assessment of student progress throughout the year
– faculty work ethic and morale; enthusiasm and dedication
– efficient use of resources and instructional time
– ongoing professional development for staff (Kannapel & Clements, 2005)
These characteristics should be prevalent in all schools, not just schools with at-risk students.
Some examples of ways schools have provided unique activities this past year are:
– North Elementary “Morning Book Club”: Once a month, first-grade parents, grandparents and reading buddies enjoy breakfast with their students and listen to a guest reader. The entire staff also has had training using the book, “A Framework for Understanding Students of Poverty,” which offers greater insight into many of the challenges of serving students from different economic backgrounds;
– Hanford Dole Elementary organized a “FASS (Family and Student Support) Team” made up of administrators, counselors, school nurse, SIMS data manager and school social worker to plan and offer assistance to students and families. Communities In Schools was very instrumental and involved in this effort;
– Koontz Elementary: Entire faculty participated in a book study on “Hear Our Cry: Boys in Crisis,” which gave them a deeper appreciation of the cultural and gender differences among the students.
The Rowan-Salisbury School System is committed to providing an excellent education to every student who attends our schools, regardless of their circumstances. Nelson Mandela says, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
Dr. Grissom is superintendent of Rowan-Salisbury Schools.