Thurston Middle School’s Multi-Tiered Systems of Support Expands, Connecting Students and Staff in its WEB
The Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) has been in place within LBUSD for a decade, and it is under this umbrella that one can find the many programs within our district that support our LCAP Goal #1: to increase student academic achievement and social-emotional strength through collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and communication. This goal acknowledges that the well-being of students is based not only on their academic success, but their social-emotional health as well. At Thurston, we believe that this perspective is most vital during the middle school years. Therefore, we focus on the development and maintenance of positive staff/student relationships, and work tirelessly to build meaningful connections with our students. With the integration of “Where Everybody Belongs” (WEB), No Place For Hate, Restorative Justice, and a Co-Vitality screening survey, we have enriched our MTSS program, improved campus culture, and strengthened social-emotional supports for our entire student body. It is this blend of academic and social-emotional interventions that form our unique signature for success and represent Thurston’s model programs.
Over the past two years, our chronic absenteeism rate declined by 3.6%, and we attribute this to the many exciting and engaging activities that we offer at Thurston. With the implementation of our WEB program two years ago, our students have become more involved and motivated to be at school and to engage wholeheartedly in the many connective activities offered. WEB is founded upon the tenant that when a student feels welcomed and included, he is much more likely to be successful in school. Therefore, WEB promotes a positive middle school transition from the moment a new student steps on to our campus. It also empowers returning students by building leadership opportunities for the 8th graders, who help 6th and 7th graders discover what it takes to be successful at Thurston. WEB removes the stigma of being a new or younger student on our campus, and connects students with friends across grade levels. Additionally, WEB supports an anti-bullying message by training student leaders to recognize and stop bullying when it occurs. This creates a safer, kinder environment on our campus and promotes positive relationships amongst students.
Another example of how our WEB activities connect students with caring staff members is our WEB Wednesday program. One Wednesday each month is designated as “WEB Wednesday,” and each month our activities change. One thing remains constant: the activities pair a student with a teacher or staff member of his choice, who compete as a team in the directed activity. Engaging our students and having fun with them at the same time is a win-win for all involved.
Along with our WEB activities, our campus has embraced the No Place For Hate program which promotes an anti-hate, anti-bias message and fosters a healthy school climate. Early in the school year, our entire student body also takes part in an assembly called “Be an Upstander,” presented by our assistant principal. During this presentation, students are taught about the importance of adhering to our SMART goals: Solve Problems, Make Great Decisions, Achieve, Respect, and (be) There and Ready. Furthermore, students are given information related to current trends and undesirable or unhealthy activities, such as vaping and cyber-bullying. Delivered in a small-group setting, this presentation opens the door to communication with our administrators in a non-threatening manner. It is the first step toward building trust and personal accountability amongst and between staff and students.
Additionally, our administration practices Restorative Justice, an approach to discipline that replaces punishment of the offender with a reparative action toward the victim. The practice is based on the belief that when students are treated with respect, they are more likely to respect the rules. It has an emphasis on community and empathy, and teaches students to look at conflict from a different perspective. And, rather than alienating a student who has committed a wrong, we support that child by examining his motives and needs, and looking at the conflict from his perspective rather than placing blame. This fosters a connective rather than a divisive relationship between staff and students who act out. We attribute our .9% decline in the suspension rate, which is at a low 1.9% overall, to our positive social-emotional climate and our Restorative Justice practices.
These engaging social programs are wonderful for the students who are eager to get involved and find a place to belong. But middle school can be challenging, and for students who struggle with emotional and mental health issues, other interventions are necessary. Two years ago, LBUSD instituted a Co-Vitality Social-Emotional Health Survey, which helps us identify students who struggle emotionally. At Thurston, our counseling and administration closely evaluate the data from this survey. Any students who scores as at-risk are immediately brought into the MTSS process. They are essentially "triaged" and placed into appropriate interventions, whether that be one-on-one counseling with our school psychologist/counseling intern/student support specialist, or placement in a group of students who work together to strengthen an area of need, such as organization or social skills. Furthermore, the Co-Vitality screener is given twice a year, once in October and once in April, so that we can look for growth and improvement over a six-month period. We also look for students who may screen as at-risk for the first time, so that we can catch them as early as possible and begin the MTSS intervention process.
The interventions that are put into place for students are continually monitored and reviewed through our MTSS process. Our administrative team and counseling staff review the intervention data frequently, and the Thurston staff meets as a whole for MTSS meetings every six weeks. At these meetings, we review up-to-date grade, attendance, behavior, and intervention data, as well as evaluate the degree to which the current interventions are effective. While entirely voluntary for teachers, our MTSS meetings have a 95% positive attendance rate. This demonstrates the commitment of the staff to the success of our students. All staff members have a voice in making sure that each student is supported and monitored closely. With complete buy-in to the MTSS process, the staff at Thurston is able to effectively and systematically address every student’s individual needs, leaving no child behind.
This heavy focus on the social-emotional well-being of our students does not mean that we take the academic achievement of our students lightly. On the contrary, our CAASPP data shows that our scores are among the highest in the county and in the top 100 in the state. Our ELA scores have increased 3.7 points since 2017, and our Math scores are up 12.4 points. These increases are not accidental. Rather, our staff prides itself on maintaining high academic expectations and standards for excellence in teaching, including Best First Instruction strategies, Response to Intervention, and engagement in Professional Learning Communities (PLC). Looking at the data from benchmark assessments, standardized testing, and final exams by department during our PLC time allows teachers to reflect on teaching strategies that worked and to reconsider those that did not. Teachers share effective strategies with their colleagues, and in this way help others adopt these strategies, to the benefit of all students. This has required some vulnerability on behalf of some teachers, but the Thurston staff is committed to pushing through this discomfort because we know that ultimately, it improves everyone’s teaching ~ which in turn improves student learning outcomes.
The staff at Thurston Middle School has been using MTSS data to inform teaching, meet diverse student needs, and refine practices for many years. We have a strong belief in educating the whole child, and that when a child feels connected and cared for, he is better equipped for the academic rigors of school and later, for challenges in life. In recent years, we have layered in a focus on student social-emotional health which enhances the shelter offered under the MTSS umbrella. As a team, our staff is committed to supporting students’ diverse needs and providing targeted, direct interventions specific to each child. At Thurston Middle School, student achievement, student needs, positive student/staff relationships, and individual supports are the keys to our distinguished success.