Cape Elizabeth Middle School rolls out student 'support service'

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CAPE ELIZABETH — A program designed to give students the tools they need to be successful through tailored, personal support, is expanding this year from the high school to the middle school.

Principal Troy Eastman said Middle School Academy is modeled after a similar program offered at the high school, Freshman Academy, which emphasizes organizational and other skills students need for success.

“It’s really about teaching kids who they are as learners and helping give them the tools to overcome wherever they may be lagging,” Eastman said. 

Under the referral program, students will receive one-on-one or small group lessons with staff that will focus on areas of learning where they might be lagging. The program will roll out as referrals come in following the start of school, which is Tuesday, Sept. 4. 

“It’s really more of a support service,” Eastman said. “It’s open to all kids, but it might not be for all kids.”

Freshman Academy’s three main areas of focus are practicing executive functioning skills; determining what they stand for, what their strengths and weaknesses are and where their passions are; and helping students find their personal voice and the importance of growing as public speakers. 

“We know that (Freshman Academy) is a successful program and has been an asset to students who may need extra support or a little assistance in figuring out who they are as a learner,” Eastman said. 

According to CEHS Assistant Principal Nathan Carpenter, Freshman Academy, which began in 2015, has been a “smashing success.”

“After my first year as assistant principal, I recognized the need to provide and place additional supports towards a select portion of transitioning ninth-graders,” Carpenter said. “… We are now offering three variations of it, affecting almost 50 incoming ninth-graders this year.”

Under the model, which Eastman said will likely evolve, there will be one teacher per grade – fifth through eighth – who will serve as a mentor and liaison to a team of staff to give a range of support, from administrative to special education and social work. 

“There will be an immediate connection and a link in the feedback chain for parents,” Eastman said. “We’re just adding another layer of support for parents, students and teachers and really trying to figure out what the kid needs.”

After the mentor determines what type of support each student needs, Eastman said they’ll likely use a “triage” approach to decide who else in the school can help them further. 

“The mentors will have to come from diverse backgrounds to meet the diversity of student needs,” Eastman said. “There will be one connection per grade, but that person might not be the best mentor for the student … (they’ll) become an expert on that kid and then share with the team who can help them best.”

How often the student meets with their support system will be dependent on their individual needs. 

As he pictures it ideally playing out, Eastman said a student would be referred, have their area of need identified, work with a mentor or mentors to design and develop strategies to implement into their regimen. Classroom teachers would be kept in the loop and help monitor and keep their students on track. 

“At that point, they might not need to be in the academy anymore,” Eastman said. 

When asked why he thinks it will be helpful to offer this support at a younger age, Eastman said the earlier students are taught to be self-advocates and independent learners, the more successful they’ll be in the future. 

“Where they’re lagging in fifth grade is likely similar to what they might have in 11th and 12th … Those deficits are never going to go away, but it’s about managing them,” Eastman said. “If it’s good for kids that are in high school, then it’s probably a good thing for our school.”

Similarly, Eastman said if a student is lagging in one area of their curriculum, it’s likely due to something they’re struggling with that could affect all areas, such as organizational skills or attendance patterns. 

“It’s more about learning styles than content,” Eastman said. “If they have a lagging skill in one area, they’re still probably going to have it next year (and) if they’re not successful in one content because of some lagging skill, it’s probably going to have a negative impact on the others.”

According to Eastman, the program will start off slowly, first by staff referrals, with a potential for parent referral in the future.

“It’s going to evolve as it grows,” Eastman said. “Maybe we’ll learn some common needs that kids have which we could then teach in whole group settings and embed into their regular day if there’s a need for it.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Cape Elizabeth Middle School Principal Troy Eastman said Middle School Academy, which is new this year, is modeled after the high school’s Freshman Academy, which is designed to help ninth-graders transition from middle to high school.