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What are some ways to work with underachieving students to help them perform to their maximum potentials and encourage them to move in a positive direction? Or in other words, there are always plans in industry and government when computers crash or nuclear reactors go down, what are some good ideas/plans to utilize when students in school begin failing classes?

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Students fail in school for various reasons.  Many school buildings have a student team of concern available for teachers who notice students exhibiting at-risk behaviors.  This team will gather information and determine a plan of action for the child.  One of the first steps to moving the student back on track is to have a discussion with the child and his or her parents regarding the recent academic decline.  Determining the reason will help the school team create a plan to assist the student.  Common reasons for students to fall behind include the following possibilities:

  1. Learning disability
  2. Emotional issue (depression, anxiety, etc.)
  3. Drug or alcohol use
  4. Issues in the home

If a student is suspected of having a learning disability, the concerns should be reported to the school counseling office so they can begin the referral process for special education services.  The student would then be assessed and a team would decide if the student is exhibiting a disability.  If the student is diagnosed with a disability then an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) would be developed for the student to address his or her academic needs.

If it is determined that a student has an emotional issue or an addiction problem, the school team may refer the family to the school counselor and/or a school social worker.  If the student receives a diagnosis from a mental health professional, he/she may qualify for a 504 plan which allows for educational accommodations and extra support. 

Many students struggle academically due to issues occurring outside of school.  The child may have a parent struggling with a mental disorder or addiction that is affecting the child.  Financial difficulties within the family may result in a high school student working late hours to help pay family bills and often missing school or sleeping in class.  If the family cannot afford child care, older siblings may stay home to take care of their younger brothers and sisters. The school may provide a list of community resources to assist the family. 

No matter what the reason is behind the student's stuggles, resilience and success in school are often linked to positive role models and relationships.  Teachers building relationships with students is one of the best ways a school can get students to attend and to achieve academically. 

The school district should also have in place alternative options so that even if a student falls behind, they have a way to catch up and still graduate.  Credit recovery programs and online course options are available from many schools. 


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