I also really believed in staff-to-staff, that you needed to have those really healthy staff-to-staff relationships so you could have the conversation as the english teacher to the science teacher to say, “No, she’s really doing a ton of work in my class,” and have that feel trusting and be able to problem solve versus having that be a defensive piece in terms of departments.
And over the next decade, not only was the failure rate continuing to be cut in half, we were having an exponential growth in students of black, Latin and low-income taking honors courses and really excelling at them.
So we’ve always been a little unique in terms of our approach. We’re a bit of an SEL approach, but our outcomes are academic.
We’ve done 12 of them across the country in a variety of settings and to be able to show that within that first year students that are in the model with the teachers being trained in BARR, the students not only attend more and they have fewer discipline issues, but they have higher GPA’s and do better on standardized test scores in both math and reading.
It’s incredibly empowering for teachers because teachers are the ones who come up with the solutions.
I think it really taps in to those intrinsic educator values and puts a system in place.
I think what distance learning did was really solidified something that we already knew, which is that schools are not just educational spaces. So, I often talk about schools being both heart and head.
I think one of the kind of key pieces is just making sure we’re recognizing that the social emotional health of our students and our adults is really critical at the same time we’re looking at academics.
BARR is an SEL approach. We’re about relationships and data and our outcomes are math and reading.
Annette Stevenson: Today, we’re joined by Angela to learn more about the BARR model and the work that she’s doing as the center’s executive director. Thanks so much for joining us today, Angela.
Angela Jerabek: Thank you for having me.
Annette Stevenson: Can you provide us with more background about how the BARR model was created and what’s unique about the approach? What is the unique approach there?
Angela Jerabek: I think a really critical difference of the BARR model is it was created in a school. I’ll tell you a bit about it, and it’s always had an actual evaluation component. We’ve always had real time data showing the effectiveness. So, my name once again is Angie and I was a high school counselor in a first-ranked suburb right outside Minneapolis, and in 1998, it was the fifth year that half the ninth graders failed a course. I was incredibly discouraged because obviously students passing their classes is an important role and a counselor is feeling responsibility for that.
Annette Stevenson: Sure
Angela Jerabek: So, I went to the principal to say, “I think I should resign. I don’t feel like I’m getting this job done.” He was a great administrator. He said, “This isn’t about you. This isn’t about our school. This is actually the national average.” Which, by the way, it still is. About 40-50% of ninth graders fail a course of some sort.
He said, “I really think you should come up with a new way of doing high school to address this.” Well, sometimes when you’re young and you’re naive and you don’t know that’s a hard thing, I’m like, “That is a good idea. We should definitely be running high school in a different way.”
So, I developed BARR and BARR stands for Building Assets, Reducing Risks. It really is in some ways focused on the advantage point that counselors have in schools. I was always able to see this whole view of the student, and I knew the math teacher was only getting a component of that student. I knew that you were really passionate about art and really talented in English even though you weren’t performing in science, I knew that you are capable and able to do these things, and the science teacher didn’t have that same vantage point.
We really built this model and it’s predicated on two pillars. One was data. I needed transparency in data, so that math teacher and science teacher could have that same access point that the counselor did. I needed quantitative and qualitative data and a way to share that. The second is, I needed relationships. I needed positive, intentional relationships, and that had to apply to staff to student, which many talk about, and some talk about student-to-student ability but I also really believed in staff-to-staff, that you needed to have those really healthy staff-to-staff relationships so you could have the conversation as the English teacher to the science teacher to say, “No, she’s really doing a ton of work in my class,” and have that feel trusting and be able to problem solve versus having that be a defensive piece in terms of departments.
Annette Stevenson: So important.
Angela Jerabek: Yeah. So, that was kind of the beginning. The other piece that’s really been helpful is we always had external evaluators. We put this model in place and we were able to document within the first year our failure rate was cut in half for all of our students. Over the next decade, not only was the failure rate continuing to be cut in half, we were having an exponential growth in students of Black, Latin and low income taking honors courses and really excelling at them, which then put us in a place to receive federal funding, to do more and more research across the country, but always having those really hard markers of, “This doesn’t just feel right,” it’s doing the right thing for kids and kids are really excelling at it.
Annette Stevenson: You mentioned the research component and the BARR center partners with the American Institutes for Research to study how this model encourages positive outcomes for students. Can you talk about that research that’s been done and how those results have translated?
Angela Jerabek: I think a really kind of critical piece is, the work that we’re doing is relationship based. It’s data and relationships based. Our outcomes are math and reading and kind of those hard data markers. So, we’ve always been a little unique in terms of our approach. We’re a bit of an SEL approach, but our outcomes are academic. So, having AIR be able to accompany us has been really critical because what we’ve done is within school randomized control trials. So when we went to a school, we were able to say, “We want to randomly assign a group of students to adults that we’re going to coach and train, and the rest of the students are going to have school as normal.” Then if in fact the school wins the basketball championship, or if in fact they have a tragedy it’s occurring to the students at the same community. You’re not going to be able to say, “Well, that school had that thing,” or “that school had this thing.” So, we were within school randomizing control trials.
It’s a very difficult level of research to be able to do and we’ve done 12 of them across the country in a variety of settings and to be able to show that within that first year students that are in the model with the teachers being trained in BARR, the students not only attend more and they have fewer discipline issues, but they have higher GPA’s and do better on standardized test scores in both math and reading. So, based on that, we’ve been in Evidence for ESSA five times as both a math strategy, a reading strategy, as well as an SEL strategy and we’ve in the What Works Clearinghouse four times. So, I go back to what’s unique about BARR, it’s homegrown and was developed at a school based on a real need and it has incredible amounts of rigorous research over the past 20 years. So, it’s an interesting kind of place to hold in terms of that much research as well as it being very real in terms of a school experience.
Annette Stevenson: Very cool. Very cool. So, there’s different strategies that are used. The BARR model uses eight different strategies. What’s the importance of using all of these strategies cohesively and connecting all the stakeholders, including teachers, students, administration, and families? Can you talk a bit about that?
Angela Jerabek: So, I think one of the key pieces is we really talk about the word interlocking for the strategies, because they need to all be feeding each other because they’re not weighted equally.
So like one of the strategies is a whole student approach. Well, it’s not like you cannot do that at the same time there’s a family engagement piece and there’s professional development. But there are three strategies in particular that I think are really critical in terms of the success that schools are seeing. One is that there is a curricular piece that classroom teachers do with the students once a week. It’s actually called the pronoun I-Time. And the goal of that is to build relationships and the relationships are mutual. So, the teacher’s not teaching the lesson, they’re facilitating the lesson. An example would be you do a lesson, what’s on your plate?
And I, as an adult am going to share, I’ve got two kids. I’m really involved in my church. I like to exercise. I share about myself, the students do too. So, what happens during that time is first of all, the adult in the room now has a context, so I’m no longer drawing the same automatic conclusion. So, if in fact you didn’t turn a math assignment in, I’m not automatically assuming that you just didn’t care. I’m going to be like, “Oh, I think she had an event this weekend that she was going through that she referenced.” And I’m going to check on that first. Similarly, the student knows who the adult is in a different way, and subsequently feels much more comfortable sharing with them because no longer am I just a math teacher. I actually am a person. I have other things going on.
So, there’s this I-Time component but the other key pieces, that feeds the block meeting. That block meeting is when the group of adults of teachers get together and are talking about the students and the I-Times as a way to really collect that qualitative data. What is the student’s interests? How are the students showing up in a variety of places, and how can I use the information that I’ve learned here in a way to be able to make sure that students is thriving?
In that block meeting, we’ve also put a system in place to help schools be more efficient. So, the schools can really come up with a system of saying, “Our students are going to be a level 0-3. Zero means student is thriving. I see nothing. Level 1 means, “Boy, Emily’s been late a couple of times to class, she kind of seems tired. Somebody should check in with her.” That means one adult needs to take an action that week and report back to the other adults what happened.
Level 2 means, “Emily’s been skipping classes. Her grades are going down, changed her group of friends.” This now means a group of adults are going to now come up with a plan. So, the whole group of teachers is now going to have a plan. Level 3 is really critical. Level 3 means we’ve identified the issue. It has nothing to do with school. There is a housing issue. There is food insecurity. This is not even a very well-meaning math teacher, going to be in their wheelhouse. Level 3 means that student’s name is going to get referred to risk review, which is another component of BARR and that’s going to bring in community resources to assist with the school. Those teachers are no longer going to be spending all of their time coming up with strategies that more than likely is not going to be able to impact that student. Their goal is going to be, you maintain that relationship, you’re doing what you can do and, in particular, if classroom teachers talk about level 1 and level 2 students, they get huge impacts.
Oftentimes what happens is when teachers do talk about students, they all talk about level 3 students. They end up feeling discouraged. They end up feeling like they’re not making a difference. And they miss level 1 and level 2 kids, because this is where their conversations were. So, when you talk about those eight strategies, I pulled those three out because it’s an example of how they feed each other. So I-time feeds a block meeting, block meeting feeds risk review, and then subsequently it comes right back down. Risk review tells block meetings what’s happening and block meetings informs how I’m going to interact with you in the classroom. So, that interlocking component is really a critical one.
Annette Stevenson: From what you’ve described, there’s a lot of like, “If this, then you do this and then you do this.” There’s these very action plan items, which once trained, I would imagine, would be relatively easy to follow if you stick with that plan, that proven plan.
Angela Jerabek: It does. It’s highly based on continuous improvement, as you can imagine. It’s incredibly empowering for teachers because teachers are the ones who come up with the solutions. The only piece is, if it doesn’t yield anything within two weeks, you have to try something else. So yes, we have a list of suggested interventions but we really push for the community to come up with it because we believe strongly in local contacts. We believe strongly that the adults in the building know their kids best and their community best. So, the issue is you have to first have a shared understanding of, “We’ve got an issue. So now we’ve got this identified. We’ve got a problem. We all agree on it and we’re going to come up with a solution.” Then you got a limited time to say, “Did that solution work?”
What also it helps with is oftentimes teachers say, “Well, I’m going to call home.” What we would push for, “Okay. Well, that’s not an intervention. That would be a way to get more information or have a partnership, but why are you calling home?” Versus, “I’m going to call home.” That’s like, “Okay, well what are we hoping that’s going to yield in terms of that piece?” So, how do we really make sure that the work that we’re doing is both strength-based and efficient, and we are able to collaborate as a school?
Annette Stevenson: The BARR model was implemented in just a few schools when it began, of course. So in 2021, I understand that you will be expanded into 250 schools. This expansion has been possible, in part, because of support from the Department of Education Investing in Innovation Fund. Why do you think the BARR model has been effective in so many schools with different and unique circumstances? Because we know that schools are very different, and communities are very different. What’s been the effectiveness across all this uniqueness?
Angela Jerabek: Well, let me even back up to kind of the BARR model and then testing it. I said, “I want to go to any place people think this won’t work” because as an educator, separate from cost, we cannot use teachers’ goodwill to do something unless it’s evidence-based. So, I want to be able to go to big bureaucratic districts. So, we’re in Boston, we’re in Baltimore, we’re in Dallas, but we’re also in rural areas and Appalachia and we’re in 17 States and DC. So that footprint was intentional because part of this research was, “We want to be able to know, does this model work kind of regardless?”
So back to your point is, it does. Now, why do I think that makes sense? I really believe it is because it originated within a school. I think it relies on the expertise of the teachers. It also really kind of syncs up with why educators chose this profession and I think it’s incredibly liberating. So, like last week we just had a virtual celebration of over 80 schools came in and were sharing the things that they were most proud of. They’re incredibly proud of as a team, how many students are being successful. So, I think before, as a teacher, sometimes you would have an individual win where you’re like, “I worked really hard and this kid pulled through,” but now the fact that I am doing this as a team is incredibly liberating that A, I don’t have that pressure alone to be able to have to problem solve this. But also when the student is succeeding, it is a shared kind of celebration where like, “This is really working.”
Why do I think it’s continuing to work is, I think it really taps into those intrinsic educator values and puts a system in place. I often look many of the things I’m sure people really push in that leveling system to be very candid. I lifted from the medical model in emergency rooms, partly because when I was a high school counselor, my desk would be populated with names and it’d be like, see Rob, see all these different people. Well, I had no idea if Rob forgot his lunch, or if it’s unsafe for Rob to go home or what’s going on because schools had no way to be able to have an efficient system. So, that leveling system really was ability to, we have thousands of students and how do we talk about them? And if I am saying they’re a level 1, someone else can push back, but I’ve got a system to at least be able to respond to, to be able to say, “Is this a one-person intervention? Is this a team intervention? Do we need community resources?” Because that’s the way to kind of move that conversation.
Annette Stevenson: So, present circumstances considered, at this point, students and staff across the country have been home for many numerous weeks due to the pandemic circumstances. It’s uncertain what will happen in the fall across the country and various states and counties, as far as the ability to return to school buildings or conducting online learning. How can relationships be built and maintained maybe not in spite of, but considering the methods that then end up becoming used for education, whether it be in person or some combination of online, some hybrid version or fully online? How do those relationships continue in that circumstance?
Angela Jerabek: Well, I think what distance learning did was really solidified something that we already knew, which is that schools are not just educational spaces. So, I often talk about schools being both heart and head.
So, the head part you can do in packets and you can do in stages. I think one of the difficulty schools all of a sudden felt was, this relationship piece where it was so much easier when you had the physical proximity of others. And now when you intentionally be brokering those relationships, I think that’s when creativity started to really show up. I think the other piece that was really unique is, I think it became a heightened level of awareness where it’s like, “Now we know that we can’t take this for granted, this idea of relationships.”
What we did is, so when we talk about our schools having relationships, our schools together also have relationships. We host professional learning communities every week where all 170 schools can participate, and we had an exponential increase in our school participation. Our schools we’re sharing strategies on, “How are you building relationships with families virtually? How are you building relationships with staff virtually? How are you building relationships with students virtually?”
So, as we’re learning things that, “This is a great idea in Boston. How can we get that out immediately with a 100,000 students versus trying to have each person learn that?” And I will say that that was incredibly inspiring.
I think the other thing that happened when you went to distance learning, having the anchors of relationships and data was incredibly stabilizing. So, most of the schools, right before they went to distance learning, they took their spreadsheets that they’ve been using and they’re like, “We’re going to monitor, is the student still in a relationship with the school? So, do we have any connectivity? And we’re going to monitor data. Are they doing things? Are we seeing data?” Based on those two anchors, we’re going to be able to assess and we’re still going to be having this leveling system of zero to three. Even from that, we had some schools that were in particularly hit with COVID very heavily so we put in a level 4 for this crisis time to say, “If anybody’s experiencing hospitalization of either the student or a family member, let’s put them at a level 4 and make sure there’s three check-ins a week from the school to see, “Do you need groceries? Do you need transportation? What do we need?” But having those systems in place really I think helped navigate that as well as, to your point, made sure that we’re keeping relationships really kind of a top of mind.
I do want to share by the way too, we have a school in Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, that we just started working with and actually had reached out with them and they provided me some language. So, they had said, “When our school shut down in the midst of the COVID pandemic, everything was in limbo. That being said, our BARR coordinator stepped up right away and provided the structure and the stability. We had supports with PTs. We had supports with other schools. So, we were able to seamlessly transition to virtual team meetings. So, we still were meeting as a team and we’re able to keep those relationships in place with our staff, as we were making sure that our students were feeling cared about.” They’re now planning for their second year, because they’ve just started and they really appreciate that BARR allows them to dream big and also be able to access other schools as they’re growing kind of in this work. So, they’re really excited. And they said that, “We can’t wait to see our students thrive.” But I wanted to make sure that I gave a highlight to Harrisburg.
Annette Stevenson: It’s an awesome story related to Pennsylvania. I’m happy to hear that.
Angela Jerabek: Yes.
Annette Stevenson: So you’ve kind of filled in some of this for me, but as an educator yourself, do you have any additional tips or advice beyond what you’ve already expressed to give teachers who are trying to stay connected with their students as they learn from home? Any kind of tips and tactics to employ?
Angela Jerabek: Yeah, I do. I think one of the kind of key pieces is just making sure we’re recognizing that the social emotional health of our students and our adults is really critical at the same time we’re looking at academics. So, especially when we go back next fall, I know there’s a bit of a conversation of, “Do we focus on academics or do we focus on those wraparound mental health supports?” I believe strongly, it has to be both and they both feed each other, because if the students are doing well, their mental health potentially is going to feel stronger. If their mental health is stronger, their academics are going to be stronger. So, I think in general, I hope we don’t get into a, “Which one should we do?” Rather, “How do they integrate?” Which I also will say is what BARR is. BARR is an SEL approach. We’re about relationships and data and our outcomes are math and reading. So, how to make sure that really stays kind of top of mind.
I think the other kind of key piece is, making sure that we’re having learning be accessible. So, how do we make sure that we’re in engaging families where we can engage families? We are getting creative in terms of kind of our reaches out. I think the other piece is like, how do we engage other students to be able to be supportive? I have another quick story from one of our schools in Florida. Really large school, they went to distance learning and out of their 1800 students, they were missing 350. They had no contact with 350.
Annette Stevenson: Yikes.
Angela Jerabek: Absolutely. So, they then turned to their students that they had formed relationships with and they had done BARR for a year. I’m reaching out to Gail to say, “Gail, I haven’t heard from Hannah on long time. Could you have Hannah reach out to me?” So, by the second week afterwards, they were down to 250 kids that were missing. Well, bottom line is after three weeks, there was only one student they were not in contact with. And the reason that happened was the school’s utilization of their peers and the peers being able to say and know that the adults are caring about them saying, “Hey, they really want to hear from you.” Many of the kids had burner phones and were in insecure housing, but that school has been able to stay in weekly contact with those students to make sure that they are safe and that they know that they’re cared about by maintaining those relationships in a variety of ways. I just kind of keep going back to relationships in any way we need to utilize them.
Annette Stevenson: Even involving the student relationships.
Angela Jerabek: Absolutely.
Annette Stevenson: For listeners and school leaders and educators, how can they learn more about the BARR model or how can they get in touch with you or the appropriate contact to find out more?
Angela Jerabek: Yes. So, we have a website and you can join our mailing list and our website is BARRcenter.org and social media. We’re at @BARRcenter on Twitter as well as Facebook.
Annette Stevenson: Awesome. Thank you so much for all of this. I know there’s so much more that we could go into, but I certainly appreciate what you’ve shared today. Thank you.
Angela Jerabek: Thank you so much for having me.
Angela Jerabek, Founder and Executive Director of BARR Center®
Angela Jerabek is the Founder and Executive Director of BARR Center®. The BARR Center (Building Assets, Reducing Risks) is a model that improves the education system with intentionally deepened relationships and a data-driven, personalized and supportive approach. BARR aligns students, teachers, staff, and families with a unified culture of support and success so that, together, we can build stronger schools and communities.
Ms. Jerabek began her career in education as a licensed K-12 teacher, and a secondary school counselor in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is an author, speaker and education innovator whose expertise lies in school improvement, equity, youth development, adolescent counseling and using data and evidence in schools. As the executive director of the BARR Center, Angie provides thought leadership and operational oversight of the organization and the national network of BARR educators.
Developed by Jerabek in 1998, the BARR model has been implemented in 170 schools throughout the United States with consistent results regardless of school type, size or location. In virtually every geographical location, the implementation of BARR has resulted in a statistically significant reduction in failure rates by an average of 34.5%, after just one year of implementation. Similarly, course credits earned increase, grade point averages improve, and the opportunity gap narrows when a school implements BARR. Tested and validated by the American Institute for Research (AIR), BARR stands alone as the most consistently proven secondary school improvement model in the country. More than 100,000 students have been positively impacted.
To schedule Angie to speak at your event, for an interview, or for a full CV please call Executive Assistant, Ali Sipkins at 952.224.6309.