Meeting All Students’ Needs: Student Support at Brooke
Brooke has a network-wide commitment to provide students with the differentiated support they need, with the goal of keeping them in the classroom. If students (with or without Individualized Education Plans (IEP)) need extra support, they receive a research-based intervention in kindergarten through grade 7 or targeted, individualized support in grades 8 through 12. Our classroom teachers are ultimately held responsible for their students’ achievement, which is an essential part of our commitment to great teaching.
Although student support is slightly different at each of our campuses, all student support coordinators play a unique role as intervention designers and vital connectors between scholars, teachers, support staff, and families. We sat down with Robin Tucker, a lower elementary student support coordinator at Brooke Mattapan, to talk about the unique ways Brooke meets the needs of every student in a typical school year.
What was your experience as a student?
I always loved school. I was a huge reader and learner, and very curious. I went to a very small and alternative school in Vermont. It was a tight-knit community, so I also really appreciated the social side of school and the community aspect.
How did going to college impact your identity development?
Going to UVM was a huge turning point in my life, especially coming from a small town that was fairly homogenous. At UVM, I took classes about things I’d never known before, and I met people with different experiences than me who had grown up in different places. It was during this time that I began to understand the inequities of the country and the world in a way that I hadn’t before. It was also at UVM that I took classes and participated in workshops and retreats that helped me start to recognize my own privilege and engage in social justice work.
What was your career path to becoming a Brooke teacher?
I was a City Year AmeriCorps member and spent a year in a fifth grade classroom at Condon Elementary School in South Boston. After City Year, I knew I wanted to stay in a school… In City Year we really got the opportunity to know the whole city– to meet the residents and the students of Boston. At the end of that year, I felt really invested in the students of Boston.
City Year organized a visit to Brooke Mattapan, and as soon as I got there, I thought, “I must work here!” There was so much joy and such a high expectation in every classroom. The next year, I was a kindergarten Associate Teacher at Brooke Mattapan, and I was a lead kindergarten teacher for the following four years.
After City Year, I had a lot of experience working with students in small groups, but I didn’t have any lead teaching experience. I can’t imagine if I had jumped into being a lead teacher with the experience that I had at the time. It was so crucial for me to go through the AT program and learn step-by-step the skills I would need, all while observing different aspects of teaching in the classroom.
What are the elements of your job as a student support coordinator?
On a typical day, I spend about 75% of the day working directly with students in a small group, or in their classroom. The rest of the day is spent meeting with a student’s team (including their family), meeting with a teacher to collaborate about the best way to meet their students’ needs, or completing case management paperwork.
On Wednesdays, student support joins whole-school professional development in the afternoon, and also meets as a student support team to collaborate and work on whole school student support projects. Dr. Melissa Oyer is the assistant principal for student support, and she leads these sessions.
How is Brooke’s approach to special education and student support in kindergarten through grade 7 unique?
Over the past few years, our Response to Intervention program (RTI) has become a successful tool for student support. We want to meet every student’s needs, and this multi-tiered approach is a great way to identify students who need a little extra, targeted practice in the classroom. In the beginning of the year, we give benchmark assessments to every student, which helps us identify those who will need additional support through interventions. The student support team then selects research-based interventions to provide for the teachers to implement them with their students. The students receiving RTI are [frequently assessed] in order for us to collect data and track their growth. The student support team collaborates with teachers to analyze this data and adjust or change the intervention if necessary. This is one way that the student support team collaborates with general education teachers to make sure we are meeting every student where they are academically.
The student support team is also constantly collaborating with general education teachers, assistant principals, families and each other to provide the most targeted, effective interventions and services for the students we work with directly.
How did student support change during remote learning?
Student support during the pandemic has looked similar to all other teaching practices in the pandemic: ever-changing. In the spring of 2020, special education services were often given through FaceTime, Google Hangouts, phone calls or any means that worked for a specific family. The student support team has been dedicated to providing targeted services to all students on IEPs from the second week of school closures onward. After having the summer to plan, collaborate and streamline as a whole school team, remote services have been much more uniform in the 2020-2021 school year. Student support team members usually either enter a classroom Zoom and pull students into a breakout room to provide their services, or students have access to a special link where they can connect with their service provider at a designated time. With some students in person and some students remote at various times throughout the school year, the student support team has remained flexible and adhered to a common goal of meeting the individualized needs of our students and supporting their engagement in learning however possible.
How does your experience as a lead teacher and Associate Teacher inform your new role?
I found my past experience as a general education teacher very valuable. My past experiences help in my collaboration with teachers as I know how much they are already putting into their day and their work with their students. It’s important for our plans to stay realistic and attainable.
In my experience as a classroom teacher I learned a lot about how valuable family relationships are. I’ve learned so much from the incredible families I’ve worked with, and in this role I know it is just as important to collaborate with families as they know their student best.
Teaching can be hard, what motivates you every day?
My biggest motivation is the relationships. I have met so many incredible students and families at Brooke. I feel so lucky to be a part of this amazing community. The students are brilliant, hard working, curious, and inspiring. The families are so dedicated to their students, and I love calling families to tell them what’s happening here, learn about what is going on at home, and collaborate to make plans for their students.
I’m also motivated by our staff community. It is energizing to work in a school where we are actively examining our practices and our materials in order to combat stereotypes and working towards anti-bias education and classrooms. This is not a quick, easy goal, and it is motivating to be part of a staff that is taking the time to work towards this together.