How Forest Park’s public schools focus resources on its most vulnerable students is reflected in many ways. One is the annual Consolidated District Plan for Federal Grants which gives a glimpse of what District 91 does to support students facing various challenges.
The plan is a report the district must submit annually in order to receive most of its federal grant funding. While it touches briefly on special education students, it largely focuses on students who are English-language learners (ELL), low-income students, minority students and students experiencing homelessness. It also touches on what the district is doing to help students who are struggling academically to improve and what the district is doing to reduce bullying. The most recent plan was approved during the District 91 Board of Education’s May 12 meeting.
According to the Illinois State Board of Education report card data, as of 2021, 47.1% of all District 91 students were low-income. Just 5.5% of the students were English Language learners and 2.1% of all students were homeless. The district is majority-minority – 45.6% of the students are Black, 14.5% of the students are Hispanic and 8.6% of the students are listed as being in two or more racial/ethnic groups. White students make up 27% of the student body.
Looking nationwide, students who are low-income and minority are statistically more likely to get fewer resources than other students, so one of the things District 91 was required to do was report what they are doing to address any disparities it may have. District 91 looks at student achievement data, enrollment data and human resources information every year.
“After the analysis of August/September enrollment data and fall benchmark achievement data, the district determines how human resources must be deployed in order to ensure [that] the needs of students are met,” the plan states. “This process occurs after the winter and spring benchmark periods as well.”
For ELL students, District 91 teachers develop plans for what students can learn based on their knowledge of the language, their academic strengths and weaknesses, as well as their interests. EEL students may also work in groups.
For school district statistical purposes, homeless students are students who don’t have a residence to call their own, so this includes students who don’t have any housing at all and students who are temporarily staying at someone else’s home. All school districts are required to provide transportation, no matter where the students happen to stay, and residency requirements are waived until the family finds permanent housing. The student also may qualify for free or reduced lunches, depending on their parents income. The plan mentions that the district has a dedicated fund to help pay for school supplies.
The plan also deals with the ways District 91 supports students who are struggling academically. Students in pre-school programs get screened. If the screening catches potential “academic risk,” the district organized meetings involving parents, teachers, administrators and the reading specialist.
“Transitional meetings are held to discuss individual student needs and to put a plan in place to support at-risk students,” the document stated, adding that the goal of the plan is to create “a smooth and successful transition for the students.”
As the students go through the school system, the district continues to keep an eye on them to see if they might be at the risk of failing their classes, screening them three times a year. The staff and parents develop a “specific intervention plan” to “address the areas in need of further instruction” based on the students’ academic and behavioral needs.
If the intervention isn’t working, “teachers can adjust the intensity or type of intervention the student is receiving.” Depending on students’ needs, it may include pulling students out of regular class for 3 to 5 days a week to work with reading specialists.
The district was also required to explain how it’s reducing bullying and harassment. The plan reports the district has been moving away from removing students from the classroom and other “traditional punitive disciplinary actions” in favor of working to “understand and rectify conditions that foster bullying, intimidation, and harassment.”
While the plan doesn’t elaborate on it, the school bullying prevention policy specifies that they take a restorative justice approach, where both the victim and the perpetrator get access to counseling and social services to repair the harm and address any issues that may be affecting them. Among other things, the perpetrator may be taught better social-emotional skills.
The plan states that “District 91 believes in the importance of teaching students about social emotional awareness,” so “prevention and character instruction are included at all grade levels.”