EAST WHITTIER – A combination of personalized one-on-one instruction, web-based curriculum and visits from a four-footed friend are providing East Whittier City School District students with a comprehensive response to academic and behavioral support needs.

“Our Response to Intervention (RTI) model is a safety net for families, to ensure that all students have the opportunity to excel,” EWCSD Superintendent Mary Branca said. “Every school in the District has an intervention program customized for the particular needs of its community.”

At each of East Whittier’s 10 elementary schools, full-time intervention specialists oversee schoolwide RTI in the areas of English language arts, mathematics, writing and English language development. Each specialist incorporates his or her own experience and expertise to craft effective RTI curriculum.

At Laurel Elementary School, for example, the six-week Laurel Academy supports students falling below grade level in language arts. Intervention Specialist Trisha Gray – an elementary classroom teacher for 15 years – works with Laurel faculty to identify students who would benefit from the academy’s personalized approach.

Those students leave homeroom classes for 30-minute study sessions. Gray and her team of instructional aides work with small groups of three to four or one-on-one, if necessary. Sessions are run with an eye toward what the students are currently studying in class.

“If they are studying author point-of-view in class, we will set them up with an appropriate book to supplement what they are learning in their core curriculum,” Gray said. “We look to pinpoint the key skills the student is struggling with, and fill those holes using a variety of resources tailored to the student, including online reading programs.”

After the initial six-week program, student progress is assessed. Typically, students return to regular class schedules after one to two six-week sessions. One assessment method Laurel uses is the Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI), which measures student reading comprehension. Since Laurel Academy was established, the school has seen steady growth in student SRI scores. If a student cannot reach the desired comprehension levels, a Student Success Team (SST) is convened.

“Laurel’s SST process begins with a consultation with the teacher, to see what other measures we can implement to help support the student,” Gray said. “If these measures are not working, we will meet with the parents. We discuss whether or not to bring in a special education teacher or a behavior program specialist.”

The transition from elementary to middle school can be difficult for many students, and East Whittier continues to provide intervention at all three of its middle schools. Due to the difficulty of providing during-the-day interventions, middle school RTI is generally scheduled after school.

Hillview Middle School has implemented “Husky Watch,” a system in which teachers notify school administrators when they have concerns regarding a student’s academic or social success. The school uses a team approach, bringing together pertinent support staff in order to best support the student’s needs.

“We have close to 700 students and they are all unique and they can all be in a different place in their development,” Hillview Principal Wendy Davio said. “What works with one student won’t necessarily work with another. We have had great success with a program called Read 180 for students who need an extra dose of language arts. The kids love it; they really respond well.”

And then there’s the unofficial school mascot, Bani the Husky. A therapy dog in training, Bani is especially adept at assisting students who need a special dose of encouragement. Over the years, he has become a beloved fixture at Hillview.