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Panel Focuses on Strategies to Stem Failure Among Middle School Students

Audience members laughed when Laurie Barron, superintendent of Evergreen School District 50 in Kalispell, Mont. joked about the struggles of keeping up with outdated technology before she made the claim that many educators are “almost as outdated as the Chromebooks used in classrooms.”

From that point on during the AASA conference session “Prevent Failure” on Thursday, Barron’s joke was developed further to unfold a much greater point about how to prevent failure among middle school students.

Barron was joined at the one-hour session by Tami Cummings, associate principal at Horace Mann Middle School in Wausau, Wis., and Kerrie Torres, assistant superintendent at Brea Olinda Unified School District in Brea, Calif., who offered guidance about preparing middle school students for success in high school.

All three speakers explained their own personalized strategies for supporting students and their tactics for effective teaching. Moreover, the speakers addressed the role that technology has had in the preparation of middle school students for transitioning to high school. “We want to prevent long-term failure,” Barron said.

The academic acceleration of middle school students is effective mostly because it increases the likelihood of high school graduation, Barron said..

Cummings said students come from many different circumstances that require administrators and teachers to think seriously about the phrase, “Student Learning, Whatever It Takes.”

All three recognized that equity in education affects a school and its students.  In addition, economic factors can impact student attendance and academic performance.

After being asked about their school districts’ grading and homework policies, each speaker shared advice on considering student trauma and challenging home situations. As part of her advice, Cummings mentioned that the less connected students were to middle school, the less likely they would be to succeed  in high school and in their adult experiences.

According to Torres, acquiring the right resources for staff and students is an important facet in creating a successful plan for preventing failure among middle school students. Technological devices ranging from iPads to Chromebooks to cell phones require heavy maintenance.

Barron recalled  the idea of “Bring Your Device to School Day,” where students would bring their devices and spend the day using them in classes.

Now, in a world dominated by technology, students everywhere have phones they bring to school with them as their “minicomputers,” Cummings said. By allowing students to bring their cell phones to a school that does not have technology resources, it creates a path for students to participate in school.

“When you don’t provide those resources, you pay the price,” Torres said.

(Carina Muniz is a sophomore at Bonita Vista High School and an intern for AASA’s Conference Daily Online.)

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