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Middle School ICU: Program brings extra attention to late homework assignments

Lou Klaers, left, works with Brandon Steer, 12, on Nov. 14 at the Willmar Middle School ICU classroom. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR — Daegan Glesne had a rocky adjustment to Willmar Middle School this fall.

At first, he turned in assignments late, if he turned them in at all, and he did some shoddy work. He spent time in in-school suspension and did some detention, too. He got grounded at home.

Daegan has put it all behind him now, thanks to the Middle School ICU. Like an ICU in a hospital provides extra attention for ill patients, the school’s ICU provides assistance for students who are having trouble finishing their work.

Daegan is now earning As and Bs, not the Ds and Fs of earlier in the year. All of his homework is done, every day. And he’s proud of himself.

The ICU started this fall, and teachers and administrators say they think it’s been a good influence on the kids. The idea comes from the book “Power of ICU” by Danny Hill and Jayson Nave.

The idea of the program isn’t new, but a new database helps track assignments and students in a large school.

In a recent presentation to the Willmar School Board, Principal Mark Miley said the database helps the school keep a handle on the thousands of assignments handed out each term.

“We can’t control what happens at home, but we can control what happens at school,” he said.

Teachers at the presentation said they have seen students taking on more responsibility and taking pride in finishing their work and earning better grades.

“It forces accountability,” said science teacher Randy Frederickson. “It’s a different feel in the building.”

At the end of the first term in the 2012-13 school year, the school of more than 800 students had 447 students with missing work. At the end of the first term this year, the number was down to 136, about 15 percent of the school’s students.

Questions kids get in the hall are the same from all the adults: “Who do you owe?” and “What do you owe?” For students who owe something, the next questions are “What do you need?” and “How can I help you?”

When Miley talked to students in the hall last week, they were ready with answers about which teachers were waiting for work and what the work was. The conversations with students were punctuated with handshakes and high-fives, both for students who owed and had ready answers and for those who were up to date.

Consistent use of the neutral-sounding questions by all the adults can help avoid confrontations with students, Miley said.

While he checked in with kids in the hallway, Assistant Principal Beckie Simenson was in the cafeteria with the list on her iPad, checking for students who needed to get their lunch and go to the ICU.

The ICU itself is a quiet classroom not far from the school cafeteria. “We work pretty hard in here,” one boy said in a recent lunch period.

The room is open before and after school and during lunch periods. Students on the ICU list are allowed to go the front of the cafeteria line, and they bring their food along. Help is available there, and some classroom teachers stick around during their own lunch periods to help kids, too.

Miley checked with students who were carrying their lunch past the ICU. They were going to classrooms.

“The teachers are really good about helping them,” he said, and they often do it on their own lunch breaks and prep time.

Students not only have to finish their assignments, they must turn in what’s called “quality work.”

Quality work includes complete sentences, proper grammar and punctuation and correct spellings. If it’s not quality work, it’s returned to the student to be finished properly and considered incomplete until it’s done.

Students are not penalized for late work, another feature of ICU. It’s more important to the school that the work is finished properly and turned in.

“If they don’t complete the work, they can’t make the (state) standards,” Simenson said.

The school uses the ICU database to notify parents if their children have late assignments. The text messages go out each Tuesday and Thursday, and parents get emails too.

When his parents started getting the texts, “they weren’t happy with me,” Daegan said recently. “I got grounded a whole bunch.” His uncle had a serious heart-to-heart talk with him.

It took a while in the ICU, along with a stint in in-school suspension and some detention before Daegan started to adjust to life at the Middle School.

“I didn’t think I could do (the work), but I had to realize I could,” he said. He hated the ICU at first, but now he thinks elementary schools should have similar programs.

There are no more late assignments in his life, he said, and he’s not on the ICU list.

“I got all my grades up, and I’m getting all my work done,” he said.

His family is “really happy with me,” and he’s happier, too.

“I have all my video games, and I can do what I want to,” he said. “I feel like I really accomplished something. … I’m a lot more proud of myself than I was.”

Daegan still regularly attends an after-school homework club call Power Hour, but it’s not because of late work. He uses it as a place to get his assignments done before he goes home.

While parents don’t like the news that comes in the texts, they love the updates on how things are going for their kids, Simenson said.

“We need parents to help us out, too,” she said, and the program helps parents and teachers work together to help kids.

The idea of quality work on all assignments is a new requirement in all subjects. Having to turn in quality work took some adjustment, “having to write in sentences and all that,” Daegan said. But he does love to write.

He and his cousins have started their own company to write and produce comic books. “I love writing stories,” he said. “I have a wild imagination.” Someday, he’d like to be a video game designer.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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