Counselor Natalie Jerzak only works part time at the Lincoln HI Public School in Ivanhoe, but the time and effort she's put towards a new project is making a difference in student achievement.
Jerzak coordinates the new "Catch-up Cafe," where students in grades 7-12 go during lunchtime to complete missing assignments. So far, it's proven to be time well spent. The number of students that failed the first quarter last year was cut in half, Jerzak said, compared to the number of students who failed the first quarter this school year.
"It's exciting for me and it's exciting for the kids," Jerzak said. "Last year, we had a program that started after Christmas break, but the priority was based on the students' grades, kids with multiple Ds and Fs," Jerzak said. "This year, the shift has been on missing work."
Every Monday, Jerzak runs a report that identifies students with missing work. The list goes out to all of the teachers and individuals slips are given to the students with incomplete assignments.
"I actually print out the student reports and highlight the assignments they are missing," Jerzak said. "If they get one of those slips through the office, they're encouraged to come to the Catch-up Cafe."
A year ago, it seemed like it was more of a punishment for the student, Jerzak said, but this year, a more positive spin has been put on the process.
"We're providing them an opportunity to get that extra help or extra time to complete what they missed," she said. "Once they complete their work, they get to get out. That's been wonderful. I'm not fighting the battle with the kids. They get in, get their work done and get out."
Jerzak has been especially impressed with the junior high students.
"The kids are young enough where their bad habits haven't been set in stone," Jerzak said. "They really care and don't want to be on the list. They understand that we're creating good habits for them. It's really fun to see."
Getting the message of the Cafe across to senior high students has been a little bit more of a struggle, Jerzak said, likely because they've probably been allowed to have missing work for the past few years and have formed certain habits.
"They don't want as much help," she said. "But we do have students who show up just because they have a science test or something later in the day. It's an opportunity for us to provide extra time if they need it."
During Homecoming week at Lincoln HI, every student, except those with missing work, was allowed to attend the powderpuff football game.
"I try to look at every opportunity where we can get the kids some extra time or help," Jerzak said. "I had 35 assignments turned in that afternoon to put in the teachers' boxes. It's good knowing that kids are getting more points. It's a step in the right direction."
The district has also implemented the ZAP (zeros aren't permitted) program, for students with excessive missing assignments. Those students report to the library after school, until 4 p.m.
"If they don't complete their missing work at the Catch-up Cafe, they'll have to stay after school," Jerzak said. "We're really devoting some staff time to create a culture here where we don't accept zeros."
Jerzak has gotten positive feedback from parents and teachers.
"With the teachers, I'm stressing that each assignment they give needs to be a quality assignment," she said. "They need to expect every kids to complete it, to have that high expectation of every student."
While students don't really want to be on the list, Jerzak acknowledged that there are a number of reasons for it, including flu season.
"We're just really focused on the positive, and not punishing the kids," she said. "It's about getting caught up rather than digging themselves in a hole."
The best case scenario would be to discontinue the program because students no longer need it.
"My biggest hope is that we don't need the program in five years because we've trained the junior high kids so well," Jerzak said. "I really believe that can happen. Of course, I'd like to have no students failing."