KU Leading Project to Boost Social, Academic Support for Students

LAWRENCE — The COVID-19 pandemic has touched every corner of society but perhaps affected none more profoundly than education. Schools were forced to close their doors, parents became teachers, and students transitioned to all-online instruction.

Now, as schools start to reopen, University of Kansas researchers and partners are leading a project to continue building supports to meet students’ academic, behavioral and social-emotional well-being needs and making the resources available to everyone in the school community, including parents teaching at home.

Last year, researchers began Project ENHANCE, funded by a $3.9 million grant from the Institute for Education Sciences to design an “enhanced” Comprehensive, Integrated, Three-Tiered Model of Prevention, known as Ci3T. Now, the team is taking data from lessons learned from partners implementing Ci3T, building more tools to support students’ educational needs based on those findings and making them available to everyone in their school communities whether they’ve gone back to school, are teaching remotely or using a hybrid approach.

“The good news is we’re thriving, despite what’s happening with the COVID-19 pandemic. This project is providing on-demand resources and materials for schools, teachers, students and parents,” said Kathleen Lynne Lane, Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of Education at KU and principal investigator of the project. “We say this coming school year has the opportunity to be a better new normal with educators and families partnering to meet students’ multiple needs.”

Ci3T practices have been shown by research to be effective in identifying individual students who may need additional supports and providing individualized responses to supplement Tier 1 efforts for all students, which in turn help boost academic achievement. Tools and interventions that have already proven effective are available for schools and parents at http://www.ci3t.org. Project ENHANCE, and a partner project, Project SCREEN, are working with schools in Washington, Kansas, Vermont, Arizona and Missouri to gauge what schools need, build new tools and test their effectiveness. Those enhanced resources that are shown to be successful will also be made available to the public.

When the pandemic hit last spring, researchers pivoted to conducting remote interviews, surveys and focus groups with schools. They have committed to continuing to work remotely with schools for the next two years to adhere to safety guidelines. However, all tools developed thus far are designed to be effective in person, remotely or in a hybrid setting.

Aerial view of JRP Hall“We don’t compromise on supporting academics, and we’re still committed to students' social and emotional well-being. We’re supporting the work the schools, students and families were doing before in a remote setting,” Lane said.

The researchers are providing professional education to partner schools remotely, teaching them how to implement Ci3T, its tools, screenings and offering technical support as well. The team conducted surveys, interviews and focus groups with teachers and administrators in partner school districts to determine their individual needs. The tools then built are shared with teachers, administrators, students and families through the Ci3T site.

Project ENHANCE has since provided tools on how to identify students’ academic, behavioral and social needs, how to provide lessons on social expectations such as responsibility, showing respect for others, giving best effort and setting expectations through all aspects of a school day. The tools are available in a variety of formats, including educational guides, brief videos and infographics, all available in English and Spanish.

While the tools being built for educators are being tested and will be made available to any interested school in the future, the resources for families are available now. Lane said the research team made a concerted effort to support parents as they navigate home, work and their child’s schooling. Of course, teachers have encountered numerous challenges during the pandemic, and Project ENHANCE has created supports for teachers working from home and including tips to help ensure their professional and emotional well-being.

“We wanted all of our supports to be readily available for both teachers and families. We’re finding out what people need, then building resources and will have them available for anyone who needs them,” Lane said. “But we wanted family resources to be available to anyone now, as so many families are seeking ways to A) create a schedule and B) set clear expectations to maintain positive learning environments while their children are accessing educational opportunities remotely or in a hybrid context. The whole system is set up to support everyone in a school, including parents and the community.”

Aspects of Ci3T have already been used in schools in many states and are being explored outside the United States with new requests to use the resources. The grant, administered by KU’s Life Span Institute, partners Lane and KU researchers with co-principal investigators Wendy Peia Oakes of Arizona State University, Sandra Chafouleas of the University of Connecticut, Amy Briesch of Northeastern University, David Royer of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and Eric Common, University of Michigan-Flint.

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