Survey highlights strengths and areas of need among Fairfield students

Teacher Katie Poole's calculus students enjoy a return to a full classroom for the first time in a year at Ludlowe High School in Fairfield, Conn. on Tuesday, March 9, 2021.

Teacher Katie Poole's calculus students enjoy a return to a full classroom for the first time in a year at Ludlowe High School in Fairfield, Conn. on Tuesday, March 9, 2021.

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media

FAIRFIELD — A recent survey found students have the necessary services in place to succeed, but there is still room for improvement.

The survey examined key areas affecting students and was administered by the Fairfield CARES Community Coalition, group dedicated to substance abuse prevention, fostering social and emotional wellness and resilience among youth, young adults and families.

It gathered information in five main categories: Express care, which focused on the teacher-student relationships; Challenging growth, which speaks to the expectations Fairfield holds for its students; Provide support, which discusses how to empower students to learn; Sharing Power, which touches on giving students a voice and allowing them to have choice and autonomy in decision making; Expanding possibilities, which identifies how to define success while showing options.

For 15 of the 20 measures included in the developmental relationships framework, more than half of the students feel “extremely” or “moderately” supported by teachers. On 6 of the 20 measures, 15 to 32 percent of students feel only “a little” supported, according to the CARES Coalition presentation.

CARES member Dana Bossio, says the express care and expanding possibilities categories are two core areas where they see students recognizing the most need.

“Overall, we’re seeing moderate developmental relationships when we comprise the five scores,” Bossio said. “One of the areas we see our students really recognizing our staff and our school district is certainly challenging academic growth.”

“We are setting high expectations for them and they are very aware of that,” she added. “There are a couple of areas though that we can see room for improvement.”

Around every two years, Fairfield CARES Community Coalition conducts an optional survey to gather information from the students based on how they feel the school and staff are handling certain topics.

This year’s survey consisted of five different modules including developmental relationships, drug-free communities, school climate, coping with COVID and a racial justice module that was only administered to the high school.

“We rely on the school and we appreciate the schools partnership with this survey data because it’s just so critical and instrumental in our prevention work when we address substance misuse and this year, focusing on relationships,” Cathy Hazlett, a member of the CARES coalition, said at a recent school board meeting. “We thought this would be an appropriate year to look at developmental relationships given that COVID was something we were all having to deal with.”

Coalition members generally praised the survey results but said they want to address the areas of need, including express care and expanded possibilities.

“At the end of the day, our relationships with one another are the foundation for experience and taking risk, vulnerability and growth and in the absence of that, we limit opportunity for our kids,” Bossio said.

Despite the general good news from the presentation, Bossio still sees progress that can be made. While concluding her presentation on the developmental relationships survey results, she asked the board to think about how expanding possibilities and express care are core components in building relationships in kids.

Bossio also pushed back a little on calling the express care category an area of need. She instead elected to provide context on why express care could have been an issue over the last year.

“I will say in terms of express care, I thought about this quite a bit. I think it would be pretty cursory and short sighted to say our teachers are not caring,” Bossio said. “I think we have to recognize the impact of this year, in terms of access and ability and opportunity to connect meaningfully with one another.”

“I think everyone, parents, kids and staff have been presented with insurmountable amounts of task to accomplish with less time than usual and less opportunity to engage in a meaningful way,” she added. “I’m cautious about assigning blame or lack of care or effort in terms of that area of need.”