School focus targets at-risk kids

At-risk students are being given priority in the Fort Dodge Community School District.

Fort Dodge Middle School will have a “school within a school” exclusively serving at-risk students, according to Robert Hughes, FDCSD assistant superintendent.

“The school within the school allows those students who have fallen somewhat behind or are having behavioral difficulties to have the opportunity to work in smaller groups with more differentiated instruction to meet their particular needs,” Hughes said. “That’s a real exciting thing we have.”

The FDMS program will be overseen by counselors Vic Vanderpool and Patrick Rial.

“Those two individuals go to the team meetings, and as students start to struggle in their classrooms the teachers come to the meeting and have conversations,” Hughes said. “We try a variety of interventions in the general education classrooms, but if that is not being successful they have the opportunity to become part of the school within the school.”

The new middle school building will have classrooms, Hughes said, for students who need extra support. Teachers Amanda Becker, Eric Petterson and Tamela Boeckman will work with those students in language arts, social studies and math, respectively.

“Between those five staff members, they will be able to individualize and give much more support to those students who need that extra boost, whether its emotional support, behavioral support or academics,” Hughes said. “We’ve really got it covered well.”

Vanderpool piloted the program at Phillips Middle School during the 2012-13 school year.

“Quite frankly, our office referrals were less than half,” Hughes said. “And we really do believe it was largely due to us being more proactive to meet the kids’ needs, rather than being reactive and letting kids misbehave because they’re frustrated and not being served well.

“Behaviors stem up from that.”

Each level will have an at-risk prevention coordinator, Hughes said. For the elementary schools, it will be counselors Diane Arndt and Branwyn Greathouse. At Fort Dodge Senior High, it will be counselor Peggy Christensen.

“We’re trying to hone up and get a real focused attention on serving those kids of need,” Hughes said. “It’s a really nice intervention piece that hopefully will assist kids from falling far enough behind to qualify for special education.”

At Senior High, there will now be a mental health therapist.

“Any of those children who are really struggling with behavioral or emotional needs have a therapist that’s on our staff, where previously we always had to refer them to outside agencies,” Hughes said. “And that took so much longer.”

Hughes said the service is needed.

“With the coverage of some of the trials and tribulations of Webster County citizens, it certainly affects our families and our kids,” he said. “And they need to have those social services and that extra support to be as stable as possible.”

The programs are being increased using at-risk prevention dollars.

“We’re very happy the state was willing to support that,” Hughes said. “In the long run, it ends up saving the district about $600,000 out of its general fund because we’re meeting the needs of those kids in a more individualized way, and thus able to use those other dollars.”