WESTFIELD — One of the ways that Westfield High School has addressed learning loss among students following the pandemic has been to create “a school within a school” for ninth and 10th graders who have fallen behind or are struggling.
“We found that the pandemic had a major effect on a lot of students, and a lot of students fell behind. We want to make sure we’re putting in place as many supports as possible to get the students back on track,” said WHS Principal Charles Jendrysik.
The school within a school has teams of teachers and smaller class sizes, which provide opportunities for teachers to meet to discuss strategies to support the students, “making sure we’re building connections within the team to help students thrive,” he said.
The team approach has been used in the ninth grade for the past five years, but this is the first year it’s being extended to 10th graders. Jendrysik said about half of the 40 students enrolled in the program are in 10th grade.
“It’s for students who have fallen behind, and who we want to make sure get the individualized supports they need to help them be successful,” Jendrysik said.
Pathways, the alternative school for grades 11-12, which is based on a similar concept, continues to meet at Camp Togowauk, 754 Russell Road, Route 20. Jendrysik said there are about 50 students enrolled in Pathways.
“With a lot of these different strategies — Pathways, school within a school — we’ve been able to help a lot of students who struggle in a traditional atmosphere,” he said. “Basically, Westfield High School is a large school. A lot of the students, we’re finding, who are going in, thrive in a smaller environment where they can’t get lost. A smaller environment for these students will help them to be successful. Many of them have had a difficult time in a larger school building. … If you’re a student who gets anxious, then you’re anxious all day.”
He said moving from a large population of 1,200 students to a focused program of 50 is a big change for some students.
“It works, it helps, it really does. We’re finding that a lot of students in that program are much more successful than they have been in the past,” Jendrysik said.
Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski agrees that both of the programs, Pathways and the school within a school, work. He said administrators know the alternative school has been a success because of the significant decrease in the drop-out rate, and the significant increase in the graduation rate.
Czaporowski hopes to use ESSER III grant funds — federal pandemic relief aid from the American Rescue Plan Act — to grow the alternative school program, which will require moving into new space. Czaporowski said the program also meets the goals of the Student Opportunity Act, which could provide state funding for the move.
The administrative team, including Jendrysik, will be meeting with city Purchasing Director Tammy Tefft in January to issue a request for proposals for a new location.
“We know that we have the student need to expand the program, and therefore we would need a larger space,” Czaporowski said, adding that the capacity of the building at 754 Russell Road is 55 students. “We’re open to finding a site that works, but it has to be a site that works.”