Schenectady middle school program helps students behind on work catch up

After-school work recovery program at Oneida Middle School helping to reduce number of course failures
Oneida Middle School student Alix Rolon, 13, works on a problem with some help from Elizabeth Sira Wednesday, January 9, 2019.
Oneida Middle School student Alix Rolon, 13, works on a problem with some help from Elizabeth Sira Wednesday, January 9, 2019.

No one asks why school assignments aren’t complete when students arrive at Oneida Middle School’s work recovery program. But they do ensure the work gets done.

Three days a week, about 30 Oneida students stay after school for an hour to complete late class assignments and gradually improve grades in courses they are failing or are on the verge of failing. The school’s teachers and administrators work to remove barriers to assignments’ completion, collecting all outstanding work and organizing it into a folder waiting for students when they get to the program.

“Their work is in there,” Oneida Principal Tony Farina said. “We’ve put it there for them.”

Students and their grades are tracked and shared across the building, so teachers can keep track of how their students are doing and administrators can follow which students are falling behind.

At the end of each week, assistant principal Matt DeLorenzo brings students who are behind on work to his office, one by one, to invite them to stay after school for work recovery; he contacts the students’ parents and explains why their kids are being asked to stay. Ultimately, it is up to the parents, but DeLorenzo said none have passed on the chance to get their kids caught up.

“It can’t be punitive; it’s not detention,” DeLorenzo said of the after-school program. “It’s not me telling them. It’s me explaining to them why it’s important. We don’t ever ask the kids why they are here. We don’t ever ask why the assignment isn’t done. That conversation goes nowhere.”

Early signs suggest the work recovery program is working: At the end of the first quarter of last school year, 216 students were failing at least one course, but at the end of this year’s first quarter, that number had fallen to 125, according to the district’s first-quarter report. The reduction in students failing multiple courses was also seen across the board, according to the report.

Seventh-grade science teacher Elizabeth Sira and science teacher Jamie Deats get paid to stay after school and oversee a class full of students participating in work recovery. Sira organizes students’ assignments, keeps kids on track and notes what each student did during work recovery — notes that are shared with their classroom teachers.

“It’s so much relief,” she said of how teachers feel when their students are able to finish outstanding assignments. “Because that’s all we want from them is to do their best. It’s probably also relief for the kids too.”

As she organized the student folders after work recovery Wednesday, Sira counted 13 newly-finished assignments; in the other work recovery room that day, students finished eight assignments.

“They add up,” Sira said.

The students weren’t without their grumbles: Some questioned why they had to do a specific assignment or said they would rather be at home or resisted Sira’s efforts to get them to focus on their work. But they also grasped why their teachers want them to stay for work recovery and said they appreciate having time to finish their work without all the commotion, and drama, of the regular school day.

“You get to stay here when you aren’t in class,” said eighth-grader Shayla Jones, who was finishing a science assignment from a class she missed. “You have time to make up your work … I think I will be able to stay caught up.”

Eighth-grader Alix Rolon on Thursday said he would rather be at home, but that he was glad to be able to finish some of his school work. He was working on a graphing worksheet for math class.

“(I’m here) so I can finish the work and not fail,” he said. “I know it’s important.”

Some students have even started staying after to do their homework for the week, or to get ahead in class. They said it was less distracting to do their work at school than at home.

“We just came in here because we wanted to do some work,” seventh-grader Giuliana Fox said. “When I get home, I have no work to do.”

“It’s chill and relaxing,” seventh-grader Zicurah Parker said. “We don’t have a lot of people to distract us.”

Categories: -News-, Saratoga County, Schenectady County

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