In educational terms, it's called intervention.
In a simpler context, it's more about caring and reaching out to others.
Atwater's Mitchell Senior Elementary School is in the second year of its Response to Intervention program. Principal Andy Kersten said intervention means offering extra help so students can catch up on missing skills and not fall behind their peers.
School employees — from the office staff to teachers and administrators — have "adopted" the 797 seventh- and eighth-grade students at Mitchell Senior for an added personal touch. They also operate programs for students deficient in certain subjects and rewards for those who excel.
Edward Lucero, Mitchell Senior's new assistant principal for curriculum and instruction, said students are tested after each unit. If they fail, they are retaught the subject matter and rewarded for getting it right the second time.
"I've never been to a site like this," Lucero said. "This is very different from what I was accustomed to; it's relationship-building from top to bottom."
Lucero, who taught for 10 years and has been an administrator for six years, said students are made to feel welcome and valued, building a sense of connection with the school. Those who have done well on assessment tests get to do an enrichment activity — educational jargon for something fun and maybe challenging.
Kersten said school staff members make sure they say good morning to the students they have adopted, asking them how they are doing. Some students may not know a staff member has adopted them, but they gain a sense that people are paying attention to them and they aren't lost in the crowd.
Alfred Perez, one of two community outreach coordinators at the school, said the Response to Intervention is Kersten's vision and he is the driving force behind the efforts. "The target is the whole child," Perez said. "It seems to be working."
Kersten said the program is teacher-driven, created by teachers two years ago. Staff members are committed to creating relationships with and mentoring their "adopted" students.
"We want to demonstrate somebody cares about them," Kersten said. "Attendance is starting to creep up and discipline is down. One week a month an extra class period of 40 minutes is added, either an intervention or a hands-on science experiment. It becomes a great motivator."
Lucero just came to Atwater from Washington Academic Middle School in Sanger, named a "school to watch" both in California and the nation. He said the welcoming aspect here extended to his entire family, and covers everybody from school board members to district administrators, teachers and staff members.
"It's remarkable," Lucero said. "We had an API score of 784 and the goal is to break 800; I see it happening quickly. It's an amazing feel; this is the place you want to be. We have planted seeds of humility and servant leadership, leading by example."
The school is seeing the results of these efforts now, Lucero said.
Kelly Joslin, an eighth-grade language arts teacher, said students are tested on the California standards. If they pass, they get a chance to choose an enrichment activity that is fun, an extra incentive to do well.
"The focus is understanding the importance of education, not just high school but also college," Joslin said. "When kids are retaught, it's in a different way in a smaller setting where they get extra support. It's meeting them where they are."
Two years ago, teachers decided their students were not where they wanted them to be and put steps into place to ensure that kids can be successful in school. The program definitely is working, Joslin said.
Melinda Hennes, Atwater Elementary School District superintendent, said these types of student support programs, both academic and behavioral, are in place at all district campuses.
"We are trying to get ahead of the problems before they escalate with a resulting, life-changing negative impact," Hennes said. "Our primary goal is to ensure the success of all of our students, not just those for whom learning comes easily. Our students come to us with a wide variety of challenges. How well we support them in meeting those challenges is directly related to their degree of academic success."
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.