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A new PBS documentary illuminates success of a Bronx school

A new PBS Frontline documentary profiles a student at a high-needs Bronx middle school that we wrote about in May.

The 13-minute film, called “Middle School Moment“, follows eighth grader Omarina Cabrera, an academic star at M.S. 244 who became one of the school’s early intervention data system’s first success stories.

Cabrera was evicted from her home in sixth grade, a time that researchers have found to be the most vulnerable for young students. Cabrera was a promising student, but as her personal life faced increasing upheaval, her school performance slumped.

The film also follows Principal Dolores Peterson and a team of administrators, deans, counselors and teachers who work to provide its student body with social and emotional support.

Here’s what we wrote about the school and its approach to tracking students in need of early intervention:

At M.S. 244, a committee of deans, counselors, and teachers meets each week to pore over data linked to student progress, not all of which can be found on a bubble sheet. Using a Google Doc spreadsheet that is based on a color-coded “stoplight” system, the school looks at trends in attendance, behavior, and grades in English and math.

Those four categories are what John Hopkins University researcher Robert Balfanz found to be the most crucial indicators for sixth-grade students. If students begin to fall behind in any of the four categories, he found, they are dramatically more likely to drop out of high school.

Peterson said the Balfanz model has helped make M.S. 244’s monitoring more organized, allowing her to see know precisely what’s going on behind the scenes when an indicator is flagged. Before, school officials didn’t know precisely how many students needed help, why they needed it, or how they did once they received assistance.

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