MMS program helps students succeed

Photo by Jenny Kirk An eighth-grade student gets some assistance with an assignment in Sorcha Vikter’s classroom during Project Success time on Tuesday at Marshall Middle School. About 60 students participate in the two-days-a-week program.

MARSHALL — About 60 students have been taking part in Project Success at Marshall Middle School.

MMS Principal Mary Kay Thomas said staff members teach a variety of standards within in the classroom to address re-teach or makeup skills — academic skills with a primary focus on math and reading as well as social/emotional, hands-on projects and organizational skills.

“Our staff really make this program as good as it is,” Thomas said. “They are very much about re-teaching skills students do not get the first time around and skill-based instruction during the Project Success time.”

The program runs after school until 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Thomas said students involved get a snack immediately after the regular school day and then go to their assigned instructor at each grade level.

“Social and emotional strategies and instruction time is included in the students’ schedules as well as an emphasis on math and reading,” she said.

Instructors at the Middle School include: Nancy Thooft, Rachel Hansen, Samantha Downing, Ellen Helgerson, Taylor Johnson, Lori Dyce and Sorcha Vikter.

“The overall program definitely makes a difference,” Thomas said. It provides a deeper academic involvement and accountability for students in the program. Students also get more time with each teacher in a smaller setting, and the program creates deeper connections for kids.”

Hansen and Downing teach Project Success together for the fifth-grade level.

“Rachel and I each teach a fifth-grade section that consists of 12 students,” Downing said. “After school, students come to our classroom and immediately start working on math facts through a program online. Once they are done, we walk down to the cafeteria where the students eat snacks and talk about their highs and lows of the last week. It is fun to see students who may not otherwise become friends really getting to know each other.”

Downing said the students then come back to the room and groups of students work on different things, depending on what their needs are.

“Some students work on missing assignments, others read high-interest articles or their AR (Accelerated Reader) books and others work on math standards through station activities,” Downing said. “For the last 20 minutes, our students go to Ellen Helgerson for social and emotional time. Afterward, a bus comes to get the students and takes them home.”

Downing said the biggest challenge is figuring out what to prioritize.

“Some students need more social and emotional support and most of the students need help staying organized and caught up on their homework,” Downing said. “It isn’t always easy to know that what you are doing with each student is what’s best for them.”

Hansen is in her second year teaching and working with the program.

“Last year, I taught first grade over at Park Side Elementary School, but I truly have seen a difference (Project Success) makes in the students’ lives,” Hansen said. “Some students need more time to work toward grade-level reading and math proficiency. Last year, we even did life skills such as problem-solving and working as a team.”

Hansen said one of the most beneficial parts in her opinion is the relationships that are formed with the students.

“With such a small group of students, we are really able to get to know the students a little more than during the regular school day,” she said. “Students are able to share their life experiences, interests and have some fun with learning. I am getting to know so many students who are not in my advisory who I might not have gotten to know if it wasn’t for Project Success. It is amazing to watch them grow and see the progress they make throughout the year.”

Downing said she has also enjoyed getting the know the students through the program, which runs from October to May.

“It is fun to be with them all year,” Downing said. “Unlike most of their classes, it is a small group that works through the year’s challenges together. It is amazing to see the friendships formed and progress made throughout the year.”

Downing, in her second year of teaching and working with the program, believes Project Success makes a positive difference for students. While the work that is being done seems to improve grade-level reading and math proficiency, she said the biggest difference might be the relationship formed between the teachers and their students, which ultimately helps academic achievement as well.

“It seems like the Project Success teacher becomes the students’ go-to person at school,” she said. “The students I had last year in Project Success still come to my room and talk to me about school and the activities they are involved in.”