Circles of Support

Jeman Howze, 26, of Racine talks with students in a meeting of the Circles of Support group in April 2016 at Dr. Jones Elementary School, 3300 Chicory Road. Racine Unified School District recently expanded the program, implementing it at five middle schools in addition to three elementary schools. The program is designed to give students an outlet to express their emotions and get coaching how to manage them.

AARON KNAPP, Journal Times file photo

RACINE — Hoping to mirror successes seen at three elementary schools last year, Racine Unified School District is expanding a new approach to curbing student behavior issues.

Called Circles of Support, the program was first introduced at Dr. Jones, Julian Thomas and Roosevelt elementary schools, where school and district staff said it not only resulted in better behavior but improved grades and test scores.

This year, staff at Mitchell, Jerstad-Agerholm, Gilmore, McKinley and Starbuck middle schools are hoping to realize similar gains as they implement the program. The approach is also being put into action for the first time at Knapp Elementary School.

Each school using Circles of Support has a least one student advocate who works with students, families and staff to find children who might benefit from the program. Those advocates then work with the students on an individual level and in groups to help them model the behaviors expected of them in school and in the community at large.

District administrators are so confident the program will yield similar results at the other schools that it has earmarked $75,000 to pay for associated training expenses. The money is part of a $1 million surplus the district has set aside to help boost Unified’s 2017-18 state report card results.

“The two middle schools I have visited so far have nothing but wonderful things to say about what a difference it is making already in reductions in suspensions and office visits,” Unified Superintendent Lolli Haws told School Board members last month.

She noted that as of Sept. 25, one Circles of Support school had experienced “zero office referrals” since the start of school year.

Starbuck’s experience

Although the program is still in its infancy at Starbuck Middle School, Principal Andre Bennett said he has already seen a positive impact on the school community.

The school currently has four student advocates on staff — two women and two men — who have spent the first month of the school year observing students in and out of the classroom and working to identify which students might most benefit from the programming, Bennett explained.

“What they have done at this point is they have built those cohorts. They have worked with the families to get them on board, and get the families a clear understanding of what they are doing,” he said. “The first set of groups will start meeting any day now.”

Noting that the student advocates live in some of the same neighborhoods as the students with whom they work, Bennett expects they also will continue to help address issues affecting larger portions of the student body.

“What they can bring to us can’t always be measured in numbers,” said Bennett. “They are able to support us (by addressing) things that may be happening in the community before kids ever get to school.

“They are already talking to those kids, engaging those kids, reducing the opportunity for incidents to occur before the school day even starts.”

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