Masonic Student Assistance Program a Success

Larry Newman working with teachers

Twenty eight educators gathered at the brand new Salish Middle School on a warm August morning to learn how to be more effective in their efforts to meet the needs of students who may be struggling academically, socially, or emotionally. Every school has children who face extraordinary challenges that can get in the way of their learning, but they can often get lost in the system due to resource and time limitations. This training, the Masonic Model Student Assistance Program, provided a different way of thinking about the challenge.

A few of these teachers had been through the training before, while others hadn't, and weren't sure if this would really be worth their time. As the day progressed, you can see the minds opening up to the new ideas being presented.

The proof of success, however, already existed. Beginning in 2014, Karen Owen, Principal of Nisqually Middle School in the North Thurston School District worked with her team to learn the model and to implement it in their school. In any given week the majority of kids are doing fine, there are a few kids who are doing really poorly, and there is a small group who are on the edge in the middle. These kids are known as "Tier II" kids. Owen recognized that this program could help make the difference between those Tier II kids tipping into the "red" zone, or getting back into the "green" zone. The school counselor would receive two referrals by grade each month, assemble the team, and then take a time-limited, structured approach to gathering information about the issue, identifying strengths and assets, and developing a proposed plan of action that used those assets as part of the solution. Following the development of the plan it was implemented, evaluated, and adjusted to continue to provide support. What they found was that not only did outcomes for the student improve, but outcomes for other students in the classes being impacted by those students also improved.

The Model Masonic Student Assistance program was developed in 1986 by Larry Newman and Tom Stecher in Pennsylvania. It was revolutionary at the time, and from the comments of teachers going through the program today, it is still an idea that hasn't made its way to the surface. Quickly after being developed, the National Masonic Foundation for Children offered to sponsor the program, because Freemasons in North America saw the value in making sure that the kids who need support the most have the best opportunity for success.

Kids can struggle in school for a number of reasons. These struggles can have negative results, including isolation, poor academic achievement, absenteeism, and dropping out. These effects can last a lifetime, so early intervention is important. Typical disciplinary action, such as suspension, can compound the effects. The Masonic Student Assistance program works differently by providing schools with concrete, actionable tools that fit along side and work with positive behavior intervention & supports (PBIS) and response to intervention (RTI) strategies to develop a team and partnership between the referring teacher, counselor, and others of influence in the school along with the student and their parents. The approach is to focus on the child's strengths and assets to develop a plan to engage them appropriately for student success,.

The Masonic Student Assistance program first came to Washington in 2014, and is expanding in 2016. To date more than fifty educators in Washington State have participated in the program, bringing it into several schools and impacting hundreds of children. In Washington State the program is provided to educators free of charge by Washington Masonic Charities and in partnership with the Grand Lodge of Washington.

Today the program is in twenty six different states, and is making a huge difference in the lives of students, their families, and teachers alike. Thousands of children have been impacted positively by this program over the past thirty years. The bottom line is that this program works for students, families, teachers, classrooms, and the community at large. This is what it looks like when Freemasons work to improve communities.