Leaving the classroom to support students
After more than two decades, Susie Erickson left behind her math classroom at Scappoose High School, but she didn’t go far.
In fall 2021, Erickson started a new role as an academic intervention specialist, stepping in to offer help when students are struggling in class.
Trying a new role after 22 years of teaching math was scary, Erickson said, but she stepped into the unknown for the opportunity to work one-on-one with students.
“You always had those kids in your classroom that you tried your hardest to help, but there’s you and 30 kids. So it’s nice now that I can take those kids and work with them,” Erickson said. “I love, love, love math, but helping is what I loved about my job. So this just takes that piece of my job that I really liked, and makes that what my job is.”
Scappoose High School has consistently had a far higher graduation rate than Oregon’s average, but Scappoose wasn’t immune from the drop in graduation rates that the state saw since the start of the pandemic.
When principal Jerimy Kelley started in summer 2021, he quickly saw that fewer than 80% of incoming Scappoose seniors were on track to graduate. Kelley created the academic interventionist position, which Erickson applied for.
In the 2021-2022 school year, 92.5% of Scappoose seniors graduated, compared to 81.3% statewide.
Erickson works closely with the school’s counseling department, where just two counselors offer academic, college and career, and social-emotional guidance for all students.
Aarin Pinkstaff, one of those two counselors, said Erickson has stepped in to help with the academic aspect — which is particularly valuable as counselors contend with an increase in mental health struggles among students.
“She’s really been able to support those students that have struggled as a result of COVID — or just probably struggled before that — academically, and she’s able to give them the extra support that maybe a classroom teacher isn’t able to do because they have 29 other kids that they’re trying to work with in the class,” Pinkstaff said.
Erickson’s days frequently involve pulling students out of class to talk. Sometimes it’s just a quick conversation, but other times, it’s a backpack cleanout to help students get organized and take inventory of their assignments, facilitating a conversation with their teachers, helping them with an assignment, or finding someone better equipped to help.
She will also pull together groups of students who are struggling on the same unit.
“I found if you have three kids who think they don’t know anything, together they know a lot and they can figure it out,” Erickson said.
Mark Sprenger, head of the math department, taught math next door to Erickson for 20 years.
“I really miss having her in our department because she was a really strong addition to our team,” Sprenger said.
But Erickson is still part of the team, he added — just in a different way.
“She does an incredible job in that role. She’s really a driving force in keeping our grad rates up,” Sprenger said.
Erickson’s background as a teacher means she’s already familiar with the classroom structure. For example, Sprenger said, if a student has more missing assignments than they can realistically finish, Erickson already knows how grades are weighted and can help the student prioritize.
Erickson’s strong relationships with students are evident in the unprompted visits they make to her office and to the quiet work room she’s set up next door. Cozy chairs, string lights, chewing gum and coloring book pages make her office a relaxing space.
“The fact that she is so relational and approachable meant that it was easy for her to have students get comfortable with her and take down some barriers they might have had with addressing their vulnerabilities academically,” Kelley said.
One of the best compliments she’s received was a student describing her as the “school mom,” Erickson said.
“I really want to create a safe environment, a safe spot where kids can come,” Erickson said. “Sometimes they just need a breather … and then they can go on with their day.”