Rise in Low-Income Families a Challenge in Boone Co.

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STURGEON - A steady increase in low-income families in Boone County is having a direct impact on local schools.

Rising numbers of students from "fragile," or economically disadvantaged, families throughout Boone County means a ten to 20 percent estimated increase in those needing reading and/or math intervention, according to Scholastic Inc. 

Despite this potential challenge to area schools, Sturgeon K-8 Principal Brandee Brown said her school is prepared, "Well, what we feel like right now is that we are catching these kids very, very early. And if and when that increase happens, we will always have the things in place to do that."

Sturgeon's elementary and middle schools recently transitioned to a new schedule to further aid students. The new elementary school schedule provides a half hour of both math and reading intervention to focus on students' specific needs. The middle school schedule provides an hour of advisory time for math as well as intervention built into students' communication arts class.

Fifth grade teacher Megan Fike said she has already seen the impact of this new schedule, "I've seen scores go up because of this reading and math intervention." Fike said the intervention period seeks to work on students' individual needs, "You're not so set in 'I need to get this, this and this done,' you're focused on what those kids actually need." Fike added this is where she sees the most progress, "It's again, those light bulb moments in the intervention time, when you're sitting there with a kid and they're struggling with comprehension and, maybe you ask them a question, and all of a sudden they can just start telling you everything."

With an expected increase in students needing extra academic attention, Fike said she plans on fighting to protect that intervention period, "When they make schedule changes, I'm very adamant about keeping the 90-minutes of protected reading time and our principal is, too. Because you need that much time to do your whole group instruction and then your small group instruction and then breaking it all the way down to individual instruction."

Brown said she is open to making more schedule changes to ensure every student succeeds, "If it [the new schedule] didn't work, we are going to do something else. I told the teachers, I said nobody has the answers that we need right now. So we have to work until we find the answers for our kids because every building, every school is different."

Columbia Public schools plans to turn to technology for help in navigating these changes, "Computers can provide students with assessment and then real-time activities that are exactly tuned to their interests and to what they're ready to learn next," Chief Academic Officer Sally Beth Lyon said. "So, in addition to the kind of small group tutoring, reading recovery and other kinds of supports we're already providing students, I see technology as a real opportunity."

In Columbia alone, 61 percent of students who score below proficient in math and communication arts are children from economically disadvantaged families. Columbia Public Schools hopes to tackle that number by providing individualized attention for students in need. 

Lyon said Columbia Public Schools hopes its efforts inspire success in students, "We hope that by meeting students where they are and providing them with individualized interventions and support, they'll be better students."