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Open Doors for Academic Support

A teacher works with a student in the centerAva Bechtel and her classmates needed little time to turn a new State High academic support center into their own writing workshop.


Each had come to the Humanities Center in Room C142 to polish their Advanced Placement English papers. Recognizing their common need, they joined forces.


“We were all sitting in this little circle, giving each other feedback,” Bechtel recalled. “Then the teachers were with us, helping us with our essays.”


Such a scene a year ago would have been challenging, if not impossible, when the writing and math centers were each just a lone table with chairs in a hallway. This year, however, a different approach has led to stronger, more equitable support for excelling and struggling students alike.


Throughout the school day, the Humanities Center and STEM Center operate out of designated classrooms, each staffed by two teachers. Students can drop in at their convenience, joining peers assigned from study halls due to low grades. As before, the Academic Center for Enrichment (ACE) suite provides the most individualized attention and instruction.


“The centers have become a really welcoming environment that students can come into and the teachers do an amazing job with them,” State High math coordinator Tyler Constable said. “They’re able to develop relationships with them, help them with their content-specific needs, and really address a lot of what the earlier centers were originally envisioned to be.”


So far, it appears students are taking advantage. As of late February, the centers had registered 1,745 drop-in visits between them, far surpassing the interest that prior support initiatives attracted.


A teacher works with a student in the center“I think students are feeling comfortable to pop in and just get answers that they haven’t been able to receive before,” State High social studies coordinator Jessica James said. “The previous centers didn’t cover all subjects, just writing and math, but now they can pop in for all of them.”


Another improvement: Students no longer have to come before or after school for help, as in the past. “I think it levels the playing field for every student to be able to access that support during the day,” James said.


State High Associate Principal Brett Wilson said the change enhances the school’s multi-tiered systems of supports at both ends. Before, one teacher per center accommodated Tier 1 drop-in students and lines could form. All too often, centers were closed due to substitute shortages.


At the same time, ACE shouldered all of the students referred for intensive support because of their core class grades. “That class was bursting at the seams, every block, because that was the only building remediation we had,” Wilson said.


Now, the centers offer consistent, quicker Tier 1 help and more one-on-one guidance for Tier 2 students, while freeing ACE to focus on Tier 3 academic and social-emotional instruction. ACE coordinators Denise Schwab and Kate Kohler said having the Tier 2 option in the centers allows the school to pair students with the right intervention level for them. Additionally, ACE students can transition to an intermediate stage when their grades improve.


“They would be in a study hall before, and that’s really going from Tier 3 support right down to Tier 1,” Kohler said. “We have a stepping stone where if they meet our exit criteria and we feel confident, we can send them to the centers but still monitor their grades so if they start to slip, we have a rapport with them.”


Bechtel, a junior, wasn’t failing when she stopped at the STEM Center and began regularly coming to the Humanities Center. Rather, she needed to clarify biology lab terms and have a quiet place for organizing thoughts and revising papers. One time, she pared down an oral presentation with English teacher Hannah Shumsky’s assistance.


“The Humanities Center has just helped me be more prepared for class,” Bechtel said. “It’s been so beneficial for me.”


For their part, Shumsky and her center colleague, social studies teacher Trevor Dietz, appreciate the meaningful connections they’ve made, whether from conducting a mock college interview or boosting a student out of Tier 2 support. 


“The centers let us better meet the individualized needs of each kid,” Dietz said. “All of the levels are able to utilize the supports. It’s been really big for a lot of kids.”


By Chris Rosenblum

Photos by Nabil K. Mark

Published April 1, 2024