Minot Public Schools is helping kids catch up academically

Submitted Photo Sherry Dyke, a mathematics interventionist working with students at Bel Air and Longfellow Elementaries, works with students earlier this week.

Teachers in the Minot Public Schools have been working hard this fall to help kids catch up on academic skills that might have been lost during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Sherry Dyke, who had been a second-grade teacher, was hired this school year as a math interventionist to work with students at Bel Air and Longfellow Elementaries who might be having difficulties with math skills.

“I am enjoying it,” said Dyke, who said there are some differences between working with a classroom of second graders and working with up to 60 kids a day in grades K-5.

Children who need help are pulled out of their classrooms and work with Dyke in 20-minute sessions. She sees groups of up to five kids. Dyke said they might play educational games, practice certain skills they need more work on such as numbers regrouping or the ten frame.

“We do a lot of modeling,” said Dyke.

She said children are learning that there are reasons for why numbers work in the way they do, not just the correct algorithms.

Sometimes Dyke sees kids for just a few days when they need a little bit of help, while other children might need longer periods of intervention.

Dyke said the children seem to enjoy getting a chance to work with her.

Across the state, as well as in the Minot Public Schools, educators have found that some kids lost some ground academically because of the unavoidable changes that came to education as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The routine of school that we had set up, that we’ve probably known for all of our lives, you know, you come to school, at the secondary level you switch classes every 50 minutes (with a) different teacher. That just went away for a big chunk of kids. We had, K-12, we had over 900 students start last year in distance learning and I think all of our teachers would say we worked really hard to be engaging but doing that over a device is just not the same,” said Kim Slotsve, the assistant superintendent at the secondary level.

Tracey Lawson, the assistant superintendent at the elementary level, said distance learning was far more successful for children who had parents or grandparents or some other adult acting as a learning guide in the home for the child who was learning online.

Other kids might not always have had the advantage of that support at home to keep them on task.

Dyke and five other math interventionists working at the elementary level were hired using COVID-19 relief dollars provided to the district. The grant funding was for three years

Lawson said the district had already had programs in place to help kids work on reading skills in the elementary schools so they decided to use the emergency relief dollars to hire interventionists to work with kids on their math skills. Lawson said interventionists meet on a weekly basis with the children’s classroom teachers and review student data.

At the secondary level, Slotsve said the district hired four “dean of students” using the COVID-19 relief dollars to help catch up middle and high school students who might have lost ground. Two of the deans of students are teachers, one is a retired administrator, and one worked in mental health. They are assigned to Jim Hill and Erik Ramstad Middle Schools, Minot High School-Central Campus and Minot High School-Magic City Campus. Slotsve said it is a nice mix of backgrounds and the dean of students meet every couple of weeks to share ideas.

“At the secondary level, I think we can do a lot of good things when kids come to school, but if they don’t come to school … so attendance is a huge piece of that as well as working with students that have gotten behind, students who did maybe distance learning or really didn’t give a good effort that first year, that March when we went into distance learning,” said Slotsve, assistant superintendent at the secondary level. “So, we’re trying to have them develop relationships with kids and families, to make sure that they’re willing to come to school and that we can then find them success while they’re attending. And they can also work with families in terms of accessing resources that are in the community. They work with some real low level discipline issues, somebody might get sent out of a classroom, just really trying to develop relationships with kids, kids that are at risk.”

Minot also expanded its summer school program this past summer to include more students.

The Department of Public Instruction reported earlier this month that there has been a decline in English and mathematics proficiency scores at schools across the state in 2020-21. Educators are paying closer attention than ever this year to data to help them pinpoint the skills that students need more work on.

Slotsve and Lawson said there was also a noticeable skill gap since the pandemic among some Minot students.

The North Dakota State Assessment in English/Language Arts and mathematics is given annually statewide, in the spring of each year, to students in grades three through eight, and to students in the 10th grade. The 2021 exams were administered from March 15 to May 7.

During the 2021 spring tests, DPI reported that the percentage of all students who scored as “proficient” or “advanced” in English/Language Arts statewide was 42 percent, a 5 percent decline in English language proficiency from the 47 percent recorded during pre-pandemic testing in the spring of 2019.

In mathematics, the percentage of students who registered “proficient” or “advanced” scores in the spring of 2021 was 38 percent, which was 7 percent less than the 45 percent proficiency recorded in the spring of 2019. The North Dakota State Assessment was not given in the spring of 2020 because of school disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

DPI reports that schools across the state are taking steps to help kids catch up, as Minot has, with increased funding for summer school, tutoring, and virtual learning.


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