A personalized learning tool has helped Eldon Middle School see a dramatic decrease in the number of failing grades in 10 years.
Mustang Hour, a 40-minute program students attend four days a week during fourth period, has been the reason things are turning around, Principal Shaun Fischer said.
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"Last spring, a group of teachers and myself met pretty much weekly to develop the plan that we're using this year, and it has turned out to be the most effective intervention system we've used," Fischer said.
For the past nine years he's been with the Eldon R-1 School District, he said, the middle school has been trying different ways to help struggling students. At the district's Jan. 22 school board meeting, Fischer explained the Mustang Hour program and the ways it's helped students so far.
Mustang Hour includes interventions, which offer a second chance at learning the material from teachers in a different way than the original lesson, and extensions, which offer extra education to promote higher levels of learning. Two software programs — ICU and MobyMax — allow students to complete missing assignments and learn with personalized lessons.
"We're constantly looking at which students need it and what areas they need to be refocused," Fischer said. "So our teachers have created teacher assessments that they give often, and if a student is struggling we identify that quickly; we re-teach them quickly, and then we're able to keep moving instead of waiting until you're too far in and now you're behind by quite a bit."
Teachers meet weekly to decide which students need which part of the program.
The board watched a video during the Jan. 22 meeting highlighting instructors and students involved in the program.
Nathanial Caudel is a seventh-grade English language arts instructor who teaches the interventions.
"We'll do a re-teach. So, for instance, if it's working on an informative response, we'll go back over and look at the notes that we had previously, and then I'll usually provide additional material as well to kind of take that first step," Caudel said in the video. "I've seen a huge progression in my class right now. I only have a handful — five to 10 kids — that are below basic on most of my essential standards, which is a huge improvement in what I've had in years past."
Students said they liked the step-by-step help they receive during Mustang Hour time. One student mentioned how it helped improve their grades and increased their understanding of lessons.
Before winter break, Fischer said, he looked at grades for the school. What he found was a pleasant surprise.
"Every semester for 10 years now, I've been printing off which students are struggling; and this first semester at the end of December it was the smallest number," Fischer said. "(In) seventh grade I did not have one student with more than one F, and to my knowledge we have never had that before."
Fischer told the board he feels the middle school has found a solid structure in this program but it isn't perfect.
From here, he added, the middle school plans to focus on social, emotional learning and better supporting students.