Early this month, PASS Educational Consultant Scott Shapiro was joined by Theresa Bartholomew, Director of Educational Programs for Warrior Run School District in central Pennsylvania, to discuss how to use data to help ensure a safe, welcoming, and inclusive environment for students at the start of and throughout the 22-23 school year.


During the webinar, the two discussed several key considerations school leaders must make as the school year gets underway, including taking stock of the current circumstances; why every child needs a champion; how to effectively promote a positive, welcoming, safe, and inclusive start to the year; considerations around student wellbeing and MTSS, and how to measure outcomes throughout the upcoming school year.


The Current Reality in Schools


Scott and Theresa delved into the reality of what schools face as we enter a new school year. The reality is that unfinished learning is real and remains inequitable. The harm inflicted by the pandemic goes beyond academics, and the impact of COVID didn’t just challenge students but the entire system.


Specifically, it’s important to have a system that provides data that allows us to measure and respond to the reality districts and schools currently face. Scott notes that “data has to drive proactivity. If we can have data on students and how they feel, instead of how we think they feel, it allows us to be proactive.” COVID has had an outsized impact on schools, districts, and especially students, but the impact isn’t necessarily equitable. Students at risk, students with exceptionalities or students with special education needs, or those with economic disadvantages may be impacted more than others. Only through data can we accurately assess and respond to those cases. How can we tackle those challenges at the start of the school year to set the year up for success—something more in line with a traditional school year? It’s easy to focus on the harm inflicted by the pandemic on academic performance, but it goes beyond that.


Scott cites Theodora Schira, who said, “it starts with collecting baseline data on all students. When an MTSS model is implemented with fidelity, students are screened for academic and social-emotional barriers to learning. That data forms the baseline for interventions and progress monitoring to address academic or behavioral areas of concern and improve student achievement”.


This type of measurement will help to identify challenges, support students who have been impacted in an outsized way, and respond to their needs from the start of the 22-23 school year.


Creating a Positive, Welcoming, Safe, and Inclusive School Year


With these elements in mind, Scott and Theresa identify four lenses through which to evaluate the upcoming school year—areas where changes can be made to ensure a more inclusive, equitable experience for all students: school environment, classroom environment, schedule, and community.


Scott explores several ways the physical school environment can be made a more inclusive and welcoming space. An example is tailoring the office and building to the languages students and their families speak. “As students are going through, and they see the sign for ‘bathroom’ in a different language, and they see ‘office’ in a different language, and parents come into the office, and they see ‘welcome’ in a different language, we’re embracing diversity, and we’re making others feel welcome in our school system.”


Theresa then speaks about how classrooms can do the same. “It’s important to allow students to share their stories and be unique in the classroom. As an example, as the youngest of four kids, I often found myself being referred to as my little brother’s sister. My relationship to a previous student defined me, but I had my own unique experiences that I wanted to be recognized for.”


Another impactful way the classroom environment can make students feel more welcome is by establishing same-age and cross-age buddies. Because there are so many extroverts and introverts, we can pair them together in a one-to-one buddy system. This helps address the stress and internal anxiety that some students feel. This helps students feel safe and connected and develop a sense of trust with one individual. Similar programs across age groups can help build a sense of belonging and community.


Theresa and Scott discuss how this year, more than any other, needs to be focused on building relationships, routines, and structures through station rotation. This involves specialist teachers, social workers, counselors, and other leadership team members who are actively engaged with everyone. Rotations should be designed to focus on teaching students expectations, and establishing a PBIS matrix and routines while building relationships with those students.


In the fourth quadrant of the discussion, Theresa speaks to the importance of community and how communication plays a powerful role in building it within the school and beyond. “It often falls to the district to communicate in as many ways as possible to as many people as possible. This has become increasingly important since the pandemic, with a growing part of the community becoming more interested in what’s happening within our schools. If we can tell our story as a school community, it will help get everyone on the same side.” At the same time, Theresa notes, communication can play an important role in identifying unintended bias. “Sometimes, we need to be more comfortable calling each other out. Sometimes we don’t realize that the things we say are biased. Interrupting that with clear communication is important.”


MTSS and Screening


Through the MTSS process, educators can ensure all learners achieve a positive, welcoming, safe, and inclusive school year. To capture data and measure the effectiveness of these efforts, Scott encourages each district and building to establish multi-disciplinary teams that frequently meet to analyze and respond to data.


Specifically, PASS allows schools to quantify key elements of how students feel about themselves and school. As Scott points out, “ if you do not have a screener if we’re just relying on qualitative student observation, you can miss the internalized student, the student who may feel stressed, the student who is compliant and complacent.”


A full replay of the hour-long webinar is available from the link below. In it, you’ll find in-depth discussions of additional strategies that support schools heading into the new academic year, and a deep dive discussion of how to proactively capture and respond to data about your students’ wellbeing.


Download a copy of the webinar here to share with your team, or contact us to schedule a demo and learn more about how PASS can support your efforts to create a more inclusive, welcoming space in the coming school year.