SUN Area Technical Institute:  Student Awareness Team

Posted on Categories Crosscutting Strategies, Individuals with Disabilities, Special Populations

At a Glance

The Student Awareness Team at SUN Area Technical Institute (SUN Tech) identifies students who are struggling and proactively provides resources and support to address their specific barriers to learning.


Established at the start of the 2019-2020 school year, the Student Awareness Team at SUN Tech identifies students who may be facing a variety of barriers to success in school and then implements interventions to help reduce those barriers. The team is comprised of four professional staff members who do not have classroom teaching responsibilities, but who still frequently interact with students: the guidance counselor, two learning support teachers (resource specialists), and the co-op coordinator.

The Student Awareness Team is not limited to serving certain populations of students. Rather, it aims to serve any student who faces challenges, regardless of whether those challenges are academic or personal in nature. It implements a wide variety of interventions to support students, such as:

    • Identifying the financial needs of a student and problem solving to meet those needs.
    • Helping students who are struggling academically to complete remedial work to improve their grades.
    • Assisting a student with college and financial aid applications.
    • Linking the students with services and resources so they can manage school and parenting responsibilities.
    • Connecting students and their parents to community organizations that can help them.

Sun Tech teacher and staff members refer students to the Student Awareness Team, and the team members also often identify students in need through their connections with teachers and staff at sending districts and through connections with SUN Tech instructors, staff and students. The team also may identify a student in need if the parent contacts SUN Tech with concerns. When this happens, the Student Awareness Team usually makes one-on-one contact with the student to identify the specific barriers and then helps the student and/or parents problem solve. SUN Tech is a relatively small school with about 50 total employees, and so the team finds these informal referral processes are sufficient for now. To help streamline the process in the future, the team is considering developing a formal referral form.

In addition to serving specific students and their families, the Student Awareness Team also makes suggestions for in-service professional development for staff. It has provided trauma-informed-care professional development, coordinated poverty awareness training and delivered QPR training (suicide recognition and prevention) to staff.

Examples of Services Provided by the Student Awareness Team

Student Story 1. The Student Awareness Team supports a student who struggled with attendance at the start of the school year and appeared tired, disheveled, and unmotivated to work in class. When the Team contacted the sending district for some background information, it learned about some past concerns in the student’s homelife and some pressing needs that required intervention. With this information, the learning support teacher and the co-op coordinator stepped in to help prepare the student to find employment in the co-op program.

The Team worked with the student so he would become eligible for a co-op placement (because his attendance had been an issue), and they obtained appropriate clothing for him to wear to his co-op. Once he was placed in the co-op, they continued to follow up with him to make sure his needs were addressed.

Since the Student Awareness Team started working with this student, he has remained employed, saved enough money to buy a car, and is working to get his driver’s license. (The Team helped him get his birth certificate and, as of this writing, is helping him obtain his social security card.) He also treats himself to lunch out, something he previously never could have afforded to do. This student is going to receive a state award for overcoming obstacles to achieving post-school success. Following co-op, he will be employed fulltime at another company and will have the option to remain part-time with his current employer.

Student Story 2. The Team also helped a student who was at risk of not graduating because he needed to complete online coursework through his sending district. Team members arranged a quiet place for the student to use for completing the coursework. They met with his instructor and the paraeducator who supports the program to coordinate a time for the student to work one-on-one to complete the work required to earn his high school diploma.

Additional Examples. The Team is helping several students who have not yet earned their learner’s permits as transportation is a significant barrier in the region and students need to be able to drive. Team members set up a study session for these students to help them prepare for the driver exam. They also are helping students to obtain their birth certificates which are required to receive a learner’s permit.

Next Steps

Moving forward, the Student Awareness Team plans to:

    • Continue to train staff members so they can best meet the needs of students.
    • Raise staff awareness of the purpose of the Student Awareness Team and the referral process
    • Consider creating a more formalized referral process.
    • Improve the reference manual it uses to identify services and resources for students.

In addition to the services already described in this profile, the Student Awareness Team has also:

    • Scheduled breaks for students who needed to regroup due to anxiety issues.
    • Provided winter clothing for co-op work.
    • Arranged for transportation from an interview back to school so that the student would not be absent for the whole day.
    • Assisted with taxes.
    • Helped with housing expenses for a student who was moving out with friends.
    • Identified a student in need of counseling due to several deaths of close family and friends.
    • Worked with a student who was struggling with attendance to identify what could be done to help him return to school.


SUN Tech established the Student Awareness Team out of the recognition that many students face barriers to success both in school and after they have left SUN Tech. Different from a Student Assistance Program (SAP) team (to which students are referred to at their sending schools if needed), the Student Awareness Team finds it is able to address far more student concerns and to do so in a less structured and more immediate way. This flexibility allows for just having a conversation sometimes, handing a specific resource, meeting with a guidance counselor, or providing additional academic support. By recognizing and addressing the needs of the students, team members believe they will be able to help students successfully transition through SUN Tech and continue on to their post-school outcomes.

Of the approximately 275 students enrolled at SUN Tech during the 2020-2021 school year, the Student Awareness Team estimates it has reached out directly to about 50 students. This number is in addition to the students with whom the team members regularly interacts through their jobs as learning support teachers, Guidance Counselor, and the Co-Op coordinator.

Because the Student Awareness Team is a relatively new development as of the time of this writing, SUN Tech is still collecting data to analyze the impact of the team’s work on student success.

Anecdotally, members of the Student Awareness Team find that they are more aware of students’ needs and the challenges they face. They also noticed that the establishment of the Student Awareness Team has created more opportunities for them to collaborate with each other and to better understand the roles and responsibilities of each team member.


SUN Area Technical Institute
Wendy S. Chalmers
Learning Support Teacher
Council of Presidents’ Advisor