In the Student Support Series, we spotlight the great work of YES Prep’s Student Support Counselors (SSCs) and Deans of Students (DoSs) to provide YES Prep students with positive, educational experiences. We spoke with Shena Tubbs, YES Prep Northbrook Middle School’s SSC about her grit group, parent workshops, and more. Read the full series here.
What is the Grit Group and why was it formed?
When I started at YES Prep Northbrook Middle School (YPNBMS) three years ago, it was my first time working in a school system. I asked “What do I need to focus on?” and “Who do I need to build a relationship with?” The consensus was that I should focus on our retained kids. I started the GRIT (Growing Resilience In Teams) group because it’s one of our performance traits. (Grit is defined as a child’s perseverance in the face of difficulty.) We focused our sessions on self-control, impulsivity, and emotional awareness.
How has it evolved since then?
The first year, the students had a lot of academic and skills gaps and we focused mainly on skill building. The second group had the needed skills, but many were retained due to their focus on interpersonal issues that had distracted them from performing well academically. Since they did not have a skill gap and struggled to adjust to building new relationships in their grade levels, it became more of a support group. We talked about building healthy relationships, emotional resilience, coping with grief, and conflicts and shaming at home that affected their performance at school. Because their issues were more emotion and relationship-based, I worked with the teachers to build rapport, and I asked the teachers to write them cards about how much they’d seen the students grow. I also asked teachers to increase positive phone calls home to improve the students’ self-esteem and to address any misperceptions the parents had about students’ abilities or performance.
This year, we did not have any students that were retained, so instead I focus on academic interventions with the students who failed the first grading cycles. I meet with them one-on-one. We go over their grades and make sure they are aware of promotion criteria. We talk about the tutorials they need to attend and discuss the issues they feel are in the way of doing their best. I tell them that if transportation is the only thing keeping them from tutorials, I’ll be their ride home. We work on becoming more comfortable asking for help and advocating for themselves. We talk to parents about holding students accountable at home. And we come up with trackers and behavioral interventions for them. For some, just knowing that they have someone in their corner is enough. For others, check-ins and me caring about them isn’t enough and we need to make sure there are changes and that academic gaps are met. I met with all the 7th and 8th grade teachers last week. I will be meeting with our Director of Academics to collaborate and make sure I’m not reinventing the wheel.
What other programming have you been working on?
This is the first year we’ve had a homeroom (advisory class). We didn’t have that in our schedule previously. I created a curriculum based on my observations and trends for each grade level. From what I saw last year, 8th graders had a lot of bullying, dramatic breakups, and friendship conflicts that interrupted class time and culture. So the first lessons for this year’s 8th graders were on building interpersonal skills. The lessons for 7th graders were on bullying prevention and for 6th graders, it was about values and who you are as a person. It’s also flexible. For example, the 6th grade teachers realized they needed to work on study skills and executive functions. I received a request from 8th grade teachers on how to talk to kids about emotions as educators, so that they can feel more comfortable with the topics. We’re also working on lessons on racism, sexism, and sexual orientation that will be starting in the next couple of weeks. We want to address improving school culture and making it a safe space for everyone.
We also formed an affinity group called the Royal Sisters, which was named by one of our students. We have ten female students of African descent and we want them to feel seen and heard. Together, we’ve had book clubs, taken them out to eat, and gone bowling. The girls feel celebrated and it’s very affirming for them.
We have parent workshops every month. The first was about overcoming discipline issues with your students. Another was how to help children stay safe on social media. For November, it will be how to talk to your student about sex. For each, I’ve had outside agencies come in to present and provide resources for families.
I am also training our peer mediators under our PAL program. They’ve been working really hard on training to mediate conflicts with their peers and students in lower grades. Their empathy and patience are out of this world, and I think they’re going to do a great job serving our kids once they get started in the coming weeks.