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State program addresses remote-learning difficulties

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More than 1,400 students in the Roswell Independent School District have been referred to a new state program that aims to support students who are having trouble with remote learning.

Students who elect to participate in Engage New Mexico get dedicated coaching through the end of the year to help them with learning skills. Helen Cheromiah, RISD’s attendance officer, explained the program and the district’s plans addressing attendance at Tuesday’s meeting of the RISD School Board.

RISD Superintendent Mike Gottlieb said Engage New Mexico is a “brainstorm” that came from the Public Education Department to help districts support students in remote learning.

“That has just been another help for the staff. I foresee this as being one of those things that is going to continue down the road,” he said.

Gottlieb, in answering a question from Board Member Hilda Sanchez, said the district is moving more toward alternative action to help students who have low attendance records rather than legal action.

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“You’re going to see a lot more tiered support before you go straight to the legal system unless it’s just a total neglect-type situation that we must by law have to refer,” he said.

Cheromiah explained the Attendance for Success Act was implemented this academic year, replacing the compulsory attendance law. While each school creates its own attendance plan under the act and submits that to the PED, they often have similarities. A sample plan she discussed in her presentation had four tiers of support depending on how many school days a student missed. The first tier was a whole-school plan for students missing less than 5% of the school year while the fourth tier provided intensive support for students who had missed 20% or more of school days, for example.

Support has included providing an online meeting for parents to answer questions about attendance, and continuously calling, texting or emailing parents of students not attending regularly to offer assistance. Families have also been referred to outside agencies such as Court Appointed Special Advocates, Wings For Life, the New Mexico Department of Health, counselors and even internet providers for assistance, Cheromiah said.

She said her department generally handles cases that the individual schools have not had success with. She said her department had contacted 89 students who were dropped from enrollment after missing 10 consecutive days to help them get re-enrolled if applicable.

“Some of those had moved out of state or out of town, or transferred to another district, but we did personally reach out to those students that were reported as 10-day drops,” she said.

The district has referred 1,404 students to Engage New Mexico and another 24 were either self-referred or referred from another source. Of those, the program has been able to contact 561 students and is still attempting to contact 851. Of the students contacted by Dec. 18, 425 have committed to receiving coaching, Cheromiah said.

Of the 425 students, 97 are in kindergarten through fifth grade. Eighty-four are in sixth through eighth grades, 226 are in grades nine through 11, and 18 are high school seniors.

Engage New Mexico asked questions about the situations of the 425 students, most of which garnered what Cheromiah said were positive results. Parents of elementary students were asked questions of their students, while middle and high school students were questioned directly.

Most students and parents at all levels indicated they had access to computers and the internet and that they knew how to contact teachers and access lessons.

However, the results of one question drew the attention of Board Member James Edwards. Students in middle school and high school were asked if they were responsible for caring for siblings while doing their own remote learning. Seventeen percent of high school students and 12% of middle school students in the program said yes.

“That percentage kind of worried me when I saw that,” Edwards said. “If we’ve got kids taking care of kids, how are they taking care of themselves?”

Gottlieb agreed the numbers are a concern.

“It gives you an idea that we do have siblings taking care of siblings because either there’s a single-person family home or, as in a lot of families right now, they’re having to work two jobs,” he said.

Among the other questions, 96% of the middle school students said they have classes where their grade is below a C, and 98% said they find their courses difficult.

On a question of whether or not students have a career or education plan after graduation, 55% of high school students said no, while 72% of middle school students said no.

Forty-six percent of elementary school parents said their children struggle with how to use the computer for learning and 90% said they think their child needs extra support in reading or math.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.