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ICU at Willmar Middle School: Program helped keep students on track: Staff

WILLMAR — A massive effort by the staff at Willmar Middle School drastically reduced late or missing homework assignments in the past school year.

Assistant Principal Beckie Simenson and staff members from the school provided an update on the ICU program for the Willmar School Board recently.

The ICU is a database that tracks homework assignments for all students and provides assistance for students who are having trouble finishing their work.

The staff started studying the ICU idea a couple years ago, Simenson said, and it went into full effect last fall. In the past, some students might have just accepted a zero for a missing assignment and moved on. That is no longer allowed.

Since the database shows late assignments in all of a student’s classes, it has helped the staff identify struggling students more quickly and address their needs, said communications teacher Chelsea Brown.

As of the last day of school June 9, the middle school had a total of 887 assignments still to be finished for the school year. A year ago, the school had more than 12,000 missing assignments, Simenson said. It’s a reduction of more than 90 percent.

“I’d say it’s working,” she said. “It’s also bringing our staff together.”

Math teacher Nancy Powers said her students had done well under the program. “This is the best year for many, many years with students staying on top of their work,” she said. “Parents love it.”

Simenson said several area school districts are using ICU, but the author of the program said it’s never been implemented in a school so large.

Students can go to the ICU room in the school before and after school and during their lunch periods. “We try to leave the ICU room open as much as we can,” Simenson said. Students have been seeking out their teachers for help, too.

In the past school year, students visited the ICU room nearly 10,000 times during the school year, and asked teachers for extra help nearly 5,000 times, Simenson said.

Students have become used to staff members called “lifeguards” approaching them in the halls to ask if they were on the ICU list. The questions are “what do you owe,” “who do you owe,” and “what are we going to do about it,” they said. Parents are also notified if students have missing assignments.

Students are proud of themselves when they work off the ICU list, Simenson said.

The school has held celebration days and has also hosted three voluntary study sessions on Saturdays to help kids get caught up.

Several teachers told the school board that parents have said at conferences that they appreciate the additional communication from the school.

For students who don’t complete their assignments in summer school, the ICU will invite them in right away in the fall to finish up the remaining assignments.

Simenson said there will be some changes in the program next year, but she expects it to continue.

Science teacher Randy Frederickson said the program’s success is impressive, and it “targets students who have never been successful before.” However, the time and energy put into it in the first year is probably not sustainable. Many teachers gave up every free minute of their days to work with students, he said.

“I love to see the students succeed, but I think we need a few more pieces in place,” he said. “This program really changed some students’ lives.”

Principal Mark Miley agreed that the program could burn out some teachers. Preliminary results indicate that it did make a positive difference in the school’s state test scores.

“We need to think through things and work on making it better,” Miley said.

Powers said she thought the program might run more smoothly in future years, as students get used to it “and learn that everyone does their work at the middle school.”

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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