Esme helps support students at an elementary school in Mount Vernon. There, she is part of a multidisciplinary team of educators who are dedicated to helping struggling students succeed.
Early in the fall of 2019, Esme met a 5th grader, let’s call him Johnny. She noticed that Johnny was frequently absent from school, and the two or three days a week that he did come to school, he would arrive late. He had missed a significant amount of school in his 6 years of education. As part of the Student Support Team at this elementary school, Esme attended a meeting where the team discussed ways to support Johnny so that he could make it to school more often and catch up academically during this critical moment in his education. In 6th grade Johnny would be going to middle school, which is a significant transition. So the team made a plan to support Johnny. He would receive regular one-on-one assistance from a reading specialist to help him build his literacy skills, and he would be assigned to Esme’s caseload, which meant that she would monitor his attendance, and check in with him regularly to set goals around his academics, behavior and attendance. Esme decided to enroll Johnny in her Advisory Class, too, which met regularly throughout the school year. In this class, the students did engaging art projects that made learning fun. They made glitter-filled calming jars together, which students used to practice mindfulness breathing. They made instant snow using diapers, they painted together, played the card game Loteria, and shared lots of laughs throughout the year. Esme says that although the Advisory Class was a chance for students to build social-emotional skills and at times deepen their learning of STEM subjects, it was really centered around celebration.
At every opportunity, Esme incorporated recognition of student progress and achievement. She celebrated with students simply because they were at school, and created a space for them to feel connected and a sense of belonging.
Johnny loved Advisory Class with Esme, and it started to really have an impact on his attendance. As he developed a relationship with Esme as his mentor, he came to school more often. Every day he was at school, Esme would find him and give him the opportunity to put a special mark on the calendar, acknowledging that he made it. By October, his attendance had improved tremendously, and he was nominated to receive an award for nearly perfect attendance. At a school-wide assembly, Johnny got to stand up in front of all of the students, teachers and school staff to be recognized as a nominee for this attendance award.
Although he didn’t win the ultimate prize, Esme said it didn’t matter. That moment for Johnny, and his journey getting there, was enough. It changed his entire relationship to school. His experience of success transformed his identity as a scholar.
From there, Esme was able to work with his teacher to get extra homework support for him. She built a relationship with his grandma, regularly filling her in on Johnny’s progress and needs, and offering to help connect the family with needed resources. She surrounded him with support and continued to check in on him daily, reminding him about his potential and the community he had at school. Through the individualized and comprehensive support Esme and the Student Support Team provided him, he thrived. He started to love school again.