In schools all across the nation the term ‘at risk’ is being used to describe an increasing number of students. For a term as daunting as this one, it is critical that educators have a comprehensive understanding of what it means for students to be at risk and how to provide the necessary supports to maximize success amongst this population.
While inconsistencies exist between definitions of at risk, commonalities confirm students at risk are those subject to not graduating prior to aging out of the education system at the age of 21. This vulnerable population is deemed more susceptible to dangerous or illegal activities, and commonly struggle with one or more academic, behavioral or emotional deficits.
Classrooms are continuously evolving from day-to-day and year-to-year. Each fall, teachers meet a brand new set of students whose names, backgrounds, strengths and struggles it is their job to learn but it doesn’t stop there. Throughout the school year, class lists are revised to reflect new students and withdraw those that are no longer attending.
Considerations when identifying students at risk in your classroom:
- Low socioeconomic status
- Behavioral and emotional concerns
- Sexual orientation
- Continuous academic struggles
It is important to keep in mind that these students will not walk into the classroom on the first day of school and announce that they need help to meet their most basic human needs of food and education. It is an educator’s job to put in the time and effort to get to know each and every student under their care to gain a clear understanding of individualized needs.
As educators, maximizing success for each and every student is a primary goal. The ‘at risk’ students are no exception. This population of students not only necessitates individualized supports to meet academic requirements, but often rely on additional supports offered through the school system to meet basic human needs such as balanced meals.
How You Can Help Your Students
Support for students at risk comes in many forms. From providing a safe and supportive environment to creating tiered intervention supports to meet individualized academic needs, students at risk maintain the right to a high quality and equitable educational experience same as their peers.
Instructional opportunities for support:
- Starting as early as possible, identifying students at risk at a young age allows children to access early intervention supports to significantly improve success rates. This is important as research supports that early intervention is tied to higher reading and math proficiency levels.
- Providing small group instruction gives students at risk more individualized support in core academic classes.
- Establishing clear, measurable, achievable and socially important goals helps build internal motivation and allows students at risk to build confidence through opportunities to achieve success.
- Finding motivation, whether internal or external allows students at risk to build ownership in their own educational journey. Aiming to transition to internal motivation over time is important as internal motivation can be sustained independently.
- Creating opportunity for tutoring and/or homework help allows students at risk to receive the supports they may otherwise not have available at home.
- Creating a systematic, consistent and encouraging approach to providing and receiving feedback allows students at risk to remain fully engaged and have a voice in their educational experiences.
- Using Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) / Response to Intervention (RTI) frameworks provide students at risk the necessary supports to be successful in their educational career.
Communal opportunities for support:
- Establishing strong communication in the classroom as well as between educators and families helps in identifying ongoing student needs for support and encourages family participation in the student’s educational journey. Communication and collaboration give students an active voice in their own education and maintain constructive feedback loops.
- Developing after school programs give students at risk a safe, inviting and supportive environment to spend their time. After school programs can be designed to meet student needs through extracurricular activities or additional instructional support.
- Maximizing school personnel involvement by encouraging ongoing relationships with counselors, specialists and other support staff allow students at risk to build a safe and reliable community to help meet their individual needs.
Students at risk require ongoing attention and individualized supports to meet their needs and maximize their success. All students have the right to a high quality and equitable educational experience. The at risk population is no exception to this rule. It is one of many critical professional responsibilities of educators to ensure this susceptible population is not overseen.