Teacher Kimberly Isaacson, left, chats with student support coach Brynne Jachimowicz at Rock Hall Elementary School. Student support coaches are paired with teachers to help meet students' needs.
ROCK HALL — Everybody needs a coach, someone to help them take their game to the next level.
Kent County Public Schools is taking that concept from the sports field to the classroom, giving students the boost they need.
Kent County Public Schools was able to harness grant funding to create a new program for the 2022-23 school year, hiring students support coaches — or SSCs — for every building.
Gina Jachimowicz, director of teaching and learning for Kent County Public Schools, called the addition of SSCs to the classroom environment "one of the most innovative, transformational strategies" the school system has put in place.
The program came about through a Maryland Leads grant.
The Maryland State Department of Education established the grant initiative directing federal funds to help local school systems push past COVID learning loss, boost student achievement, address learning gaps and provide more support for underserved students.
Jachimowicz said Kent County Public School's use of the Maryland Leads grant in part for the SSC program is unique.
"I don't know of any other district in the state that has approached this in the way that we have," she said.
The school system here has always had tutors and volunteers.
The SSCs are different and a whole new support structure was put in place for the program.
As coaches, the SSCs help address students' academic as well as social and emotional needs.
Jachimowicz said educators here want to meet students where they are and the SSCs help make that happen.
"We all need a coach," she said, someone to provide guidance and support.
Each SSC is assigned a teacher and receives a caseload of students to work with daily.
The students are not pulled out of class. Rather the coaches "push in," as educators refer to it, working with them in their classroom.
During these times, teachers have created Acceleration Academies for the rest of the class — an opportunity for additional enrichment time.
Rock Hall Elementary School Principal Gillian Spero said the SSC positions allow for more targeted instruction with small groups during core instructional blocks and intervention and enrichment times.
"By adding these positions to our staff, we have ensured that our academy groups are focused and small," Spero said. "The coaches' impact is demonstrated through the strong relationships they have with students and the level of growth through differentiated instruction for this academic year."
By meeting students where they — in their classroom during the school day — SSCs remove the barriers that children can face for after-school programs such as transportation home.
The Maryland Leads grant opened the door for Kent County Public Schools to hire 29 SSCs.
The school system reached out to colleges for future teachers, scouted for career changers interested in education and contacted retirees who could find renewed purpose in the classroom.
That effort piggybacked on another Maryland Leads initiative of Kent County Public Schools, the Grow Your Own program for staff recruitment and retention.
Dan Hushion, supervisor of human resources for Kent County Public Schools, sees the Grow Your Own program as an effort build a pipeline for teachers who want to join Kent County Public Schools and build a career here.
"More and more teachers are leaving classrooms across the country and teacher prep programs at the higher education level are seeing decreased enrollment," Hushion said. " As a result, districts have been forced to think strategically on how to rebuild a teacher pipeline."
Hushion said there are 10 members of the support staff actively engaging in college coursework in preparation to become teachers. He called that a step in the right direction
For Jachimowicz, the SSC program is a win-win for everyone, providing additional support and coaching for students and bringing future teacher candidates into the schools.
"The synergy has benefited both the adults and the children," she said. "And the benefits can be seen in real time. The students light up when their coach enters the room."
Members of the Kent County Public Schools' inaugural cohort of students support coaches attend a training session at the Board of Education office last fall. These coaches have been helping students and teachers in schools here throughout the year.