This past March, West Essex Middle School made a presentation at the New Jersey Association for Middle-Level Education (NJAMLE) State Conference at Kean University that was later chosen to be presented at the AMLE national conference this November in Nashville.
“WE Rise- a School-Based Program for Emotionally Fragile Children” was presented by Principle Vee Popat, along with Director of Special Services Tania Symmons and Student Assistance Counsler Dana Leblien. The school’s WE Rise program is a unique and original program dedicated to helping students who want to learn but have struggled academically in a standard classroom setting for any variety of reasons. The program runs for two periods a day in order to help students get acclimated for the day.
“It’s something that we created here. It’s unique to our school district,” said Popat. “It actually comes from the high school program called WE Connect [from West Essex High School]. It’s a school within a school that serves the needs of students who for a variety of reasons have difficulty functioning in the traditional classroom setting. We saw a need that stemmed from a rise in anxiety that occurs in middle school students across the nation and certainly in our area, as well as a rise in school avoidance which is rising nationally and was affecting some of our students. At the time, there was not a good answer for how to provide a solution. So faced with that challenge, we came up with a program that serves as a nice calm stable environment. It gives them a grounding point. Something that’s familiar and helpful throughout their school day.”
After a description of the WE Rise, the three presenters focused on the growing attendance in WE Rise’s third year, as well as the components of the program itself and where they would like to take the program in the future.
“We all bring a different perspective regarding the program. It’s an intervention for students in need,” said Popat. “We surveyed the participants on what they wanted to learn. It’s always important when you present to take the temperature of the audience. That way you can make it a really relevant experience. We are talking to people looking for a similar solution, but may not know how to get it.
WE RIse was created by West Essex and is run entirely by the school’s staff. Popat, Symmons, and Leblien enjoy being able to discuss their approaches and bring new solutions in front of their peers.
“A lot of times, these programs can be brought into schools by third party vendors. But when you do it with your own people you can provide a more customized touch. It’s worked tremendously well. We’ve started the year with one or two students and are finishing with eight or nine, and the students are thriving.”
After the state, conference in March, there has been a lot of support for WE Rise. The presentation was submitted and then chosen to be presented at the national AMLE conference. The trio looks forward to sharing their ideas and explaining to their approaches to a much broader audience later this year.
“I have presented nationally and there really is no other experience like going to an actual conference because you just learn so much about yourself and where your school needs to be,” concludes Pophat. “Presenting is just the ultimate. Sharing with others who do what you do is a great experience.it’s something at the middle school that we encourage our teachers. This is a valuable experience that you get from being in front of others teaching. You can learn about yourself and grow.”