Are student intervention programs working?

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Last Thursday's District 200 school board meeting also included a report on Oak Park and River Forest High School's FREE and MUREE intervention programs.

Created in the early 2000s, FREE (Females Reaching for Education Excellence), and MUREE (Males United to Reach Educational Excellence), specifically target male and female black students who have been in conflict with peers. Boys and girls meet separately after school in groups to talk about their conflicts. Other activities include sports activities and taking field trips.

Board President Jacques Conway had pushed the administration for some time to provide the board with a detailed report on who's in the program and what they do. Both programs grew out of Pupil Support Services, and were creating jointly with the Oak Park Police Department.

A total of 28 students-18 boys and 10 girls-participated in the program this past school year. Students are recommended for the programs, which are run by school resource officers and other staff.

But OPRF doesn't officially track whether a students' participation in either program results in their having fewer infractions at the high school.

At last week's meeting, Carl Spight, OPRF's institutional researcher, strongly encouraged the high school to invest time in assessing the impact of that program, and other interventions, on students disciplined.

OPRF, he insisted, is able to identify students with two or more suspensions in the first few weeks of the school year. There are also black students with a high recidivism rate annually, he added, but the school doesn't aggressively target them early on.

"I know those patterns; I know those students," said Spight. "Those students can be identified early. Why is it that at the end of the first nine weeks when we see these students infract, folk don't start owning them and being held accountable for them?"

The trend historically shows those infraction patterns doubling after the first 18 weeks, Spight added.

This past school year saw the trend continue with a group of students incurring multiple suspensions, high tardiness and other infractions. Those students are likely to repeat and even increase those patterns next year, Spight said.

Former OPRF interim principal Don Vogel expressed frustration in not being able to track those students better. OPRF, he said, had not done an assessment of those highly recidivist students or any of the school's intervention efforts.

OPRF's discipline system focused almost exclusively on punishment, Vogel explained, but the school is trying to move away from that.

"Somehow, we've got to get on these students sooner. We need to know when these students are being referred [to the discipline system]. Is there a pattern? We need to know deeper where these incidents are occurring," Vogel said.

Terry Dean

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