RISE On-Track Coaches Share the Value of Personalized Student Interventions

Grade 9 SuccessRISE by 5 Strategies

On-Track Coaches (OTCs) are RISE Network youth development professionals who serve as champions and advocates for a targeted group of Grade 9 students. As full-time staff members in RISE Network high schools, OTCs function as coaches for a maximum caseload of 60 students for whom they can provide deep and sustained support. While some OTCs work directly for a school, others are part of the RISE Network team.

Over the course of the 2021-22 academic year, RISE-employed OTCs served 350 students among our RISE Network partner schools. 74% of those students had struggled with grades/attendance in middle school, 14% were classified as Special Education, and 24% as English Language Learners.

These OTCs connected with the students on their caseloads – from quick check-ins to longer one-on-one meetings, classroom observation, and parent meetings – over 18,000 times throughout the school year. The rate of these students who were on-track to promote to 10th grade increased by as much as 26%.

RISE’s team of OTCs recently answered questions about their experiences this past academic year. Here’s what they had to say:

How did you approach developing personalized achievement plans for the students on your caseload this year?

Caseload creation is always something that takes a lot of data and a good bit of human input. Once students are on the caseload it is about connecting with them and learning more about who they are and how they respond best to support. Group connections, a sense of belonging, building individual rapport, and utilizing places and spaces to give them the information and tools to have a successful school year are crucial in a new school year.

Laura Ehlinger, On-Track Coach, Westhill HS

What do you find are the best methods for connecting with students, both to provide them with a safe space and to help keep them accountable?

For me, it’s about being open, honest, and showing a willingness to share even the things that are not the easiest to talk about and/or my proudest moments. This allows students to understand that I’m not perfect and have made mistakes but learned from them, and if I can, they certainly can as well. I also try to establish some form of commonality that we can revisit either as a marker for progress or as an incentive that we both look forward to achieving. This way students feel like we are in it together and it creates a sense of trust and comradery, which in turn allows for communal accountability.

Daemond Benjamin, Senior On-Track Coach, Hartford Public HS

How do you go about building relationships with students and their families?

I like to start the year strong by meeting 1:1 with students on my caseload. In these initial meetings, we talk about their interests, favorite classes, family dynamics, middle school experience, and other topics that would give me a better understanding of the student on an individual level. With families, I like to start the year with introductory mailings sent home, including descriptions of the OTC role and what interventions and meetings with their students could look like. I let them know that my help is based on the needs of each student and their families and that I am an additional resource for them.

Sharina Jimenez, Senior On-Track Coach, Brien McMahon HS

How do you bridge the gap between students and their teachers, helping to provide both support for students and insights about those students to their teachers?

When a student comes to me with concerns or information I always make sure I have the student send an email to the teacher looping me into the conversation so that way we are all aware of what is going on. I am then also able to have conversations adult-to-adult about the student, which helps bridge the gap.

Khanisha Denise Moore, On-Track Coach, Westhill HS

What are your most proven strategies for providing encouragement and motivation to your students?

I have found that the best way to provide encouragement and motivation is to “catch ‘em being good.” I make sure to find my students to acknowledge when they have brought a grade up or attended a class they had been trying to avoid. I also send out motivational quotes to my students regularly to remind them to keep going and not give up on themselves. 

Jamie Meurer, Senior On-Track Coach, Hartford Public HS

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Where did you see the greatest impact of your work this past year, in terms of student improvement?

The biggest impact, believe it or not, was not on paper. There was a young lady who raised her Algebra I grade from a D- to a B+ in a matter of weeks after working within a Math intervention program I had arranged. But more important than her grade was her attitude and mindset around math had changed and she seriously was considering being a math teacher. So not only did her grade increase but so did her outlook for the future. 

Daemond Benjamin, Senior On-Track Coach, Hartford Public HS

What do you enjoy about working as an OTC?

One of the most rewarding aspects of being an OTC is seeing students grow from the beginning of the year to the end. My students keep me energized and wanting to come back to work each day. I love being able to share in their 9th-grade journey, not only the “glows” but the “grows.” Watching them get so proud of the things they accomplish throughout the year makes me feel like I’m doing my part.

Evan Kelley, On-Track Coach, Brien McMahon HS

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