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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
Feb. 27, 2024

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Battle Ground High School aims to improve student mental health

Annual plan pinpoints goals, path to greater support

By , Columbian staff writer

In the nearly two years since classes have reopened following the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools across the state have reported seeing students’ mental and emotional health worsen. Battle Ground High School principal Charbonneau Gourde isn’t shy to admit just how those challenges, at times, left school staff exhausted and frozen.

“We were really just in a reactive mode for so long,” Gourde said.

This school year, however, with disruptions to in-person education and scheduling easing, Gourde and his fellow leaders at the biggest school in the Battle Ground School District are leaning into a series of systems aimed to strongly support student social-emotional health and get attendance rates back on track.

The details of such systems came as part of the school’s annual improvement plan, which was presented at the district’s board of directors meeting Monday. Every school in Washington completes such a plan each year to identify goals and plans of actions for some of their most serious issues.

“I feel very fortunate in our district that the two critical pieces of our plan are high quality instruction and strong social-emotional learning,” said Gourde. “They are intertwined, but we are trying as a district to focus on those two elements. It’s a district direction, it’s an ongoing process and it takes a lot of work.”

Bolstering support

Though the plan as a whole reflects an acute understanding that bolstering social-emotional support services for students can lead to improvements in several areas, Battle Ground leaders set specific goals for how they can better reach students.

Each year, schools examine the extent to which they’re adequately providing what the district calls “positive behavioral interventions and supports” to students through an annual review known as Tiered Fidelity Inventory. The exam features a collection of questions for various school staff to answer, such as how much time they think is being given to support students socially each day, how well aware are students of school behavioral rules, and how often are students given alternatives to punishment in times of distress or misconduct.

In 2020-2021, the last time Battle Ground High conducted such a review, they found that 46.7 percent of such standards were being met — a level that school staff have deemed insufficient.

“Last year was one of the hardest years of our careers,” Gourde said. “The reality is this year, we were rebuilding our (behavioral support) teams from the ground-up.”

By the end of this year, Gourde hopes the school can see the Tiered Fidelity Inventory review reach 60 percent of their intended supports. Their biggest goal to achieve that mark, he said, is to ensure that every student has at least one trusted adult that they can go to at school with personal concerns. A survey they conducted in November 2022 showed that 77.8 percent of students had at least one such adult they felt comfortable going to.

“That’s not good enough,” Gourde said. “I want all of our students to feel that they belong.”

Another major step school officials say they’ve taken is ensuring their in-school social-emotional learning center is fully staffed with two paraeducators at all times. The centers serve as a space for students to go during the day to voice personal concerns or get additional academic help as an alternative to punishment. Amid staffing shortages last year, the high school’s center often only features one staff member.

“(The center’s staff) can work with kids academically, if they’re struggling emotionally,” said Tamra Scheetz, the district’s director of instructional interventions. “These are critical services.”

Attendance and graduation Rates

School officials also look to raise attendance rates this school year by placing a more schoolwide focus on what’s called to Response to Intervention spreadsheet. A massive living document accessed by administrative staff, counselors and security team members, it establishes categories of students based on how many absences they have, how many classes they’re struggling in and more. The students struggling the most will receive periodic special attention from counselors and administrators to better identify each student’s personal barriers to education, they said.

“Our head attendance secretary will make phone calls and send 3-, 5-, 7-, 10-, and 14-day unexcused absence letters to parents,” the plan reads. “Phone calls are made home, and students are required to fill out an attendance questionnaire with attendance, barriers are determined, and students are referred to the appropriate adult (i.e. nurse, counseling, graduation coach).”

In the 2020-2021 school year, Battle Ground High School saw an average attendance rate of 71.1 percent — noticeably lower than the district average of 86.7 percent. By the end of this school year, Gourde said he hopes they can see the school’s attendance rate leap to 95 percent.

Gourde and other school officials hope that the sheets will also allow them to keep a watchful eye on students’ grades before things get out of hand. The inclusion of graduation coaches in accessing such documents is key, they said.

“When a student becomes a Tier 3 student, for example — and that’s 4-6 F’s for academic — that’s when we act,” Gourde said. “We’re really trying to wrap around our kids as much as we can, but it’s certainly not perfect. Everything we’re doing is trial and error.”

The plan unveiled Monday also features a handful of other plans and outcomes for goals like improving test scores and reducing disciplinary actions. The plan can be reviewed online at https://go.boarddocs.com/wa/bgps/Board.nsf/files/CMTPKJ64FF1E/$file/22-23%20BGHS%20SIP%20.pdf.