The term “at risk” can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

But, at Union Middle School, a program that focuses on at risk kids isn’t for kids who don’t care about school — it’s for bright students who just need a little extra support, said Tina Brueggemann, who helped develop and implement the program over the past year.

The program was designed in cooperation with Ty Crain, UMS principal, and Dr. Judy Stivers, assistant superintendent. Brueggemann piloted the program, which a form of also is being used at the high school.

“We have programs for children with special needs, but we didn’t have anything in place for children who don’t qualify for those programs, yet still struggle in academic classrooms,” Brueggemann said.

Students come to the classroom for various reasons, but usually, somewhere along the way, they weren’t able to understand some basic skills.

“We’re trying to build on those skills, because when they don’t have them — they’re lost,” Brueggemann said.

Brueggemann said that in grade school, students can fail one core class and still pass to the next grade level. Then, it’s possible, they could get to middle school without basic math (communication or other) skills to build on.

“That’s why it’s so important to implement these at-risk programs,” Brueggemann said.

The process starts with teachers recommending who they think might benefit from being in the class. It has to be a student who teachers think wants to do well.

The teacher fills out a form that is submitted to the counselor, who adds her own comments. At the same time, the counselor deletes the student’s name and passes it on to Crain, who ranks the student based on the data.

Students are chosen by Crain and Brueggemann without knowing who the student is.

“I work with kids who want to graduate high school and understand how important an education is,” Brueggemann said.

Students come to the class for one period each day. They take biweekly assessments in math, communication arts and reading. The assessments show what skills the students need to strengthen.

If the class has several of the same weaknesses, Brueggemann will work with the entire class, which ranges from two to six students per session. She also will work individually with students on problem areas.

Students have the opportunity to look at their results, as well as about their growth and where they need to spend more time.

“It’s been an eye-opener for these kids,” Brueggemann said, adding that she has enjoyed watching their skills grow.

Brueggemann also focuses her attention on organization, time management and effective ways to study for tests.

Her goal is to prepare the students to be successful for high school, especially since the transition can be difficult for some.

“We want them to be self-sufficient and have the skills to succeed in life,” she said. “That’s what every teacher wants for the kids.”

As skills build, some students have been eased out of the program, Brueggemann said, which makes her happy. She continues to mentor those students and watch their grades.

“I work with intelligent children,” she said, adding that sometimes they have to be convinced they can do it.

And when students get good grades on their tests or meet their accelerated reading goals or have other success, the class celebrates.

“Success breeds success,” Brueggemann said, adding that she measures success of the program through yearly progress assessments, Gates and Stars reading tests, grades and other factors.

Eventually, Brueggemann said the students will be successful in all areas and will be able to maintain that success without support.

After 19 years of teaching, Brueggemann said she feels like she’s making more of an impact.

“I loved teaching every minute of history and communication arts,” she said, “but I feel like this is what I was meant to do. I can make a difference here.”