An elementary school student who was often suspended is particularly memorable to
School Success Partnership (SSP) Program coordinator with Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency Inc. (NEMCSA).
Struggling with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the then-fourth grader was aggressive in the classroom, easily distracted and on a path to academic failure. Today, that student is an honors graduate, a volunteer firefighter and a productive, working member of the community, Siegert says.
Such outcomes were exactly what organizers envisioned when they created the SSP program in 1991, says Dorothy Pintar, program director.
"Human service department heads were working with the same families over and over again. The program was designed to address issues that hinder academic success at their root cause," she explains.
Encouraging parental involvement, such as attending parent-teacher conferences, Parent Advisory Council (PAC) meetings, parenting classes and home visits is a key to success, she says.
Siegert helped the boy develop skills that lessened his aggressiveness in the classroom and got his parents more involved in school activities, among other measures.
"What School Success liaisons do is build a bridge between the home, school and community, figure out what the barriers are and solve them," Pintar says.
Over its 20 years, the SSP program has accumulated an impressive track record of helping improve children's academic performance and has garnered the attention of Gov. Rick Snyder and other state leaders, who directed funding toward the program for support and expansion.
The program also caught the eye of researchers from the University of Michigan School of Social Work, who validated its effectiveness.
|SSP staff and children pose during a session called "I Care Cat."
The SSP Program has a staff of 32 who are NEMCSA employees, including program administrators in the agency's Alpena headquarters and liaisons stationed in each participating school. School Success liaisons have bachelor's degrees in a human services field.
Success Program students and families typically experience a variety of issues that affect school performance, such as unemployment, death or divorce in the family; absenteeism; and unmet mental or medical health needs. The program works with families, school administrators, teachers and other community agencies to increase attendance, decrease incidents such as suspension and detention and, subsequently, improve academic performance.
The program also has the force of the court system behind it, with parents facing the threat of educational neglect charges for students with chronic absenteeism. Before matters escalate to that level, however, a judge will hold an informal, off-the-record preliminary inquiry with parents in an attempt to resolve the issues.
"We just want to solve the problems," Pintar says. "We're trying to keep them out of the courts before we have to deal with them as adults."
Children in elementary school are the focus of the program because their behavior is easier to change than older students' and parental involvement is more evident, she explains.
School Success currently operates in 29 of the 58 schools in an 11-county region of Northeast Michigan. The program originally operated in four counties but was able to expand to four more when Gov. Snyder allocated $300,000 for 2014-15, boosting the program's budget to $1.3 million.
For 2015-16, the state is increasing its support to $450,000, allowing for the program's reach into three additional counties.
|Gov. Snyder presents Dorothy Pintar with a "Create Award."
School Success drew Gov. Snyder's attention after it was evaluated by UM's Curtis Center Program Evaluation Group and after program leaders were invited to speak at the Governor's Education Summit in 2014, where they received the governor's Create Award.
The UM researchers found overwhelmingly high levels of satisfaction from parents and school principals, who said the program is effectively addressing attendance-related and academic needs of students. Students showed an 82.7 percent increase in academics and a 98.5 percent increase in attendance upon program completion.
The UM researchers were also impressed, telling Pintar that the program was deserving of a higher profile based on its uniqueness and effectiveness.
"They called us a 20-year overnight sensation," she says.