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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Addison County School District report sees rise in behavioral issues, sparking concern

The Addison Central School District (ACSD) experienced a number of behavioral incidents within the student population from August 2023 to March 2024, a March 25 report revealed.

The report utilized data collected from teachers inputting reports into Educlimber, a software program the district began using this year. While there is no historical data to which to compare this year’s numbers, there is a perception that problematic behaviors have been increasing compared to past years.

The Campus reviewed the report prepared by ACSD Assistant Superintendent and Director of Equity & Student Services Nicole Carter, who declined to speak with The Campus for this story. Tara Affolter, an associate professor of education studies and faculty director of equity, justice and inclusion, spoke with The Campus to contextualize the report in the larger context of K-12 education in Vermont. 

“We have great local educators here and people are doing work and this is a trend nationwide that post pandemic we are seeing … more concentration of what we call ‘stuff we don't want to happen,’” Affolter told The Campus.

The ACSD presentation stated: “students who struggle with behaviors in school struggle because they are lacking skills. We help kids by helping them to build skills.” 

Affolter agreed with the concept of skill-building as a way of helping students succeed, but worried about the implications of the report highlighting specific grades such as first grade as having particularly frequent unacceptable behaviors.

The presentation distinguishes between “minor” and “major” behaviors and breaks down the data by grade, gender and race, as is required by federal regulations.

“I think where we often fall down is that the narrative then becomes, ‘This child or this particular group of kids or this graduating class is the problem class,’” Affolter said. 

She also noted that narratives can be created about specific kids, which sometimes become self-fulfilling as students seek attention while feeling little incentive to actually improve their behavior.

“I just think it's more complicated than saying that school is a dumpster fire and those poor teachers. We can say both those teachers need more support and that behavior is out of line,” Affolter said.

Both the ACSD and Affolter called attention to the huge amount of services that schools are expected to provide, and the ways in which specific behaviors obstruct the provision of those services. Affolter also explained that it makes sense that teachers are feeling increased pressure and the need to call out even more loudly for help, given their already increased burdens.

“If you already are providing or trying to provide the basic needs for so many people in the community and you don’t have all the resources you need, and then on top of that you have behaviors that make it very hard for you to teach… it’s not surprising that it rose to this level,” she said. 

Affolter also reflected on the problems with the traditional model of managing children with difficulties by isolating them from the “normal” classroom setting.

There is a temptation to separate classrooms, Affolter explained. “But think about the logic behind that: you put the kids with the most challenging behaviors together in a classroom, they're missing out on socialization. They're missing out on all of these things,” she added

The ACSD report both explained the district’s goal of keeping students in normal classroom settings as much as possible, yet it noted the success of the Wellness Learning Center, a separate space for students with specific social, emotional and behavioral needs, at Mary Hogan. The center has been successful, and ACSD expressed plans for a similar space at either Mary Hogan or Ripton Elementary School.

Affolter, a former public high school teacher, noted the challenges of actively managing a class and said that ideally another person should be removing dysregulated students so the teacher and other students are not upset.

Ultimately, as the ACSD report and Affloter explained, the issues come down to a lack of resources available to help students and teachers succeed.

Affolter noted that one problem with the report was a negative atmosphere surrounding the statistics, which may lead to a defeatist attitude.

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“That's a troubling narrative because that's how we start giving up on our schools and our kids and our teachers,” she added.