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ICU for student apathy

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Intensive initiative in Lovington middle, high schools helps kids break cycle of missed assignments

Andy Brosig/News-Sun

LOVINGTON — When most people hear the phrase Intensive Care Unit, their first thoughts turn to dimly-lit, quiet areas of hospitals, filled with folks recovering from injuries, heart attacks or serious illness.

When school officials in Lovington think of the ICU, they’re talking about an initiative they believe could resuscitate education for select students who are struggling.

Apathy among students is one of the biggest problems schools across the country face today and breaking that cycle is what ICU is about.
It can be a vicious cycle, Lovington Municipal Schools Superintendent Pam Quinones said.

Students fail to turn in assignments on time, either because they were absent or they just didn’t get the work done on time, she said.
And as incomplete or missing assignments stack up, students can get into the attitude of why bother? Assignments multiply and soon a student is buried in an ever-growing mound of missing work, leading to feelings of hopelessness and apathy.

ICU is “combating student apathy,” Quinones said. “We’re not letting students say, ‘I don’t want to turn in this assignment. We’re giving them another opportunity to relearn the standards and turn in their work.”

LMS started using ICU at the start of the second quarter of this school year with the senior class, Lovington High School Principal Trey Williams said.

By the end of the first semester in December, he said, results were already apparent and the program grew to include seventh- and eighth-graders at Taylor Middle School, along with all four grades at LHS.

“ICU isn’t a program,” said Laci Lockwood, principal at Taylor Middle School. “It’s an initiative that flips the culture of thinking, a tool to defeat apathy.”

The way it works is teachers file reports of students with missing assignments in a data base. At the middle school, Lockwood gets a report every day and the students are gathered at a central location where, with the help of teachers, they’ll get the chance to complete their work during their lunch hour either in the former library at the school or in a classroom.

“They go to lunch early then we take them to a space where they can concentrate and work,” she said. “They get the opportunity to learn the concepts they didn’t learn in class.

“Most of the time, the lunch period is enough time for them to complete the assignments. If it’s a bigger project it may take them a few days. We just keep them on the list and give them the opportunity repeatedly until it’s completed.”

It’s different at the high school, Williams said.

LHS offers open campus for all students during lunch, meaning students can leave the school to get food during their lunch period. And high school students are expected to be able to take more personal responsibility, he said.

That doesn’t absolve the high school students of getting their work done, Williams said. It’s just difficult to organize a specific time when they can work on their assignments.

As an added incentive, parents are notified when a student is placed in the “ICU Lifeguard,” the database system that collates and monitors the student lists. School officials aim to work around class schedules so working on ICU assignments won’t jeopardize student’s work in other subjects.

“But there are times, if the student is that far behind, we will pull the student and they will miss other classes,” Williams said.

And there’s another aspect to the ICU. Students can’t just skate by on their assignments.

“We not only expect students do the work,” Williams said. “They have to do it at high quality.’

Lockwood agreed.

“It doesn’t do any good if they’re just going to halfway do” the work,” she said. “That’s not teaching them what we’re trying to teach them.”
There are consequences for not turning in assignments students can avoid with the help of ICU, Lockwood and Williams said. Missing assignments mean a zero grade which is particularly impactful at the high school level, where every point matters for transcripts, college applications and more, Williams said.

There are two tiers of credit recovery possible through ICU, they said.

For most missing assignments, students can earn 70 percent of the grade they would have received if they’d turned it in on time. But, if the assignment isn’t turned in due to an excused absence — doctor appointments or family emergencies, for example — the student is eligible to recover full credit.

ICU went into full effect in middle school and high school at the start of the second semester. And it’s already working.
During one ICU session at Taylor Middle School last week, just a couple weeks into the session, Dean of Students Chloe McPherson told the News-Sun the number of students called out during lunch to complete assignments was near half what it was when the program started.

“When we started this, we’d have like 80 kids in multiple rooms with teachers to support them,” Lockwood said. “Now, we can host ICU in just two classrooms — average 20 to 30 kids.”

And the hope is ICU can help schools in Lovington increase proficiency levels in math, reading and other subjects, Lockwood and Williams said. Getting kids in class, doing their work, will go a long way toward addressing high school proficiency rates currently running less than state averages.

“To improve proficiencies, first, kids have to be in attendance,” Williams said. “Second, they have to do their work. This is allowing students to do their work.

“It allows the kids — it goes to the word ‘hope’ as well. When a kid knows they didn’t turn in an assignment and they’re going to get a zero, they give up. They think, ‘Why even try? I’m going to fail anyway.’”

Lockwood said: “And it’s working. Student apathy is going away. We need them, by the time they get to high school, to be able to fully accept responsibility for their actions.”

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