Kane County Chronicle

Kaneland staff works to address increase in behavior problems at high school, middle school

Students at Kaneland Harter Middle School in Sugar Grove work during a study hall period. The school began in-person learning five days a week April 5.

Kaneland Community School District 302 continues to experience an increase in student behavior problems at Harter Middle School and Kaneland High School.

The district hired a pair of behavior facilitators a year ago in hopes of achieving consistent, positive change in regard to this nationwide issue and the two staff members provided an informational update during the May 9 Board of Education meeting.

“We’ve had a lot going on the last couple years and I think some of the reasoning behind the shifts in students’ need and behavior is systemic out of COVID,” said Carrie Skital, behavior facilitator for Harter Middle School. “We can’t ignore that piece. I also think there’s some real shift in social media use and access and other things that are at an all-time high. The access to support and resources for a lot of mental health things is not keeping up at the pace of their needs, so schools are kind of absorbing more of that so a lot of pieces are contributing.”

As reported during the presentation, student behavior problems aren’t limited to Kaneland. It has become a nationwide issue with rising discipline issues, an increase in substance abuse, more fighting, and a greater number of students struggling with mental health, negative behaviors and school avoidance.

At Harter, Skital reported an increase of 149 problem referrals over a similar time frame that excluded the 2020-21 school year because of the hybrid schedule and student attendance being at only about 50% daily.

While there were 487 such referrals between August 2019 and February 2020, there were 636 from August 2021 to February 2022. “Defiance” as a problem behavior increased from 69 referrals to 153 while “disrespect” decreased from 99 to 78.

Katie Gleason, behavior facilitator at Kaneland High School, mimicked Skital in repeating that kids need to learn how to behave just like they have to learn about social studies and other subjects.

“Just like Carrie said that middle school kids need to learn how to behave, so do high school students,” Gleason said. “Just as a student that’s struggling with a math concept, we would practice and we would teach them. If they are learning how to drive a car, we’d practice and we’d teach. If they struggle with behavior, we’re going to practice and teach. It’s kind of where we come from and why we do what we do and why it’s so important.”

At Harter, Skital has identified a need to make some changes to how student behaviors are handled, including an increased role in multitiered systems of support implementation, further professional development for teachers on how to address such an increase in frequency and intensity of student behaviors and the creation of a new school-wide referral form centered around the five core values adopted by the district.

“Just as kids’ needs have shifted, the teachers’ needs are shifting with that,” she said. “You might be the very best math teacher, but you’re not necessarily equipped or trained to handle some of these newer trending behaviors that we’re seeing. It’s very prevalent in classes. It’s not just one or two. It’s pretty significant pockets of kids.”

Since unexcused absences and tardiness continue to be a problem at the high school level, Gleason said she is working on revising and refining the systems and processes to address attendance. She’s also striving to work with the homeroom committee to help facilitate supported teacher/student relationships, positive rapport, trust and channels for student advocacy while creating a goal of the use of positive reinforcement strategies at all grade levels.

Also during the meeting, the district recognized those who reached 25 years of service or are retiring, including outgoing Kaneland High School Principal Jill Maras.

“For these past 23 years, Kaneland has educated, led, mentored and supported five Maras kids and we are very blessed for that,” she said. “I wanted to thank you for the opportunity to grow as a person, to work with the most dedicated, forward thinking, compassionate people I know. Kaneland isn’t my job, it’s my home and it’s been an honor and a blessing to serve here and be a part of this community and I will continue to stay here and wish you all the best as I cheer you on from a distance.”

In his 15th and final year as a high school history teacher at Kaneland, Javier Martinez said he’s leaving with a smile on his face after making quite the impact with an opportunity that saw him teach history, coach soccer, serve as an assistant athletic director and more.

“I want to thank the school for taking a chance 15 years ago and hiring an old guy as a teacher,” he said. “Things worked out pretty well. I had fun and now onto the next adventure.”