Associate Educator Mark Kociemba on the front line at Henry High School

Interview by Susan Curnow Breedlove

What is your role during the pandemic? “Making connections personally, mentoring students to enable them to be successful with academic and stuff that is affecting them personally.”

Who do you work with? “I am on the 9th grade team of Henry staff. I am point person for 30 students of 9th grade, most have self-selected my group as they indicated interest in playing boys basketball and I am the off-court coach for the Henry 9th grade team. I have 40-45 additional students that I watch over academically and with their social-emotional status. This includes assisting with family needs such as with necessities like food, personal provisions and post high school planning.”

How do you connect with the students? “Some call me and for several I initiate a call.”

How do you make personal connections with people you’ve never met? “For some, I know their brothers and sisters making it easier but there still is the challenge of developing a relationship with the student. I believe that one needs to have the kids’ trust you before you deal with academics.” Mark adheres to the premise of renowned educator and author Herbert Kohl who in his now classic book I Won’t Learn From You writes of the phenomenon of not-learning, or refusing to learn, which takes place when a student’s intelligence, dignity or integrity is compromised by a teacher, an institution or a larger social mindset. 

How do you get to the point of helping a student? “I get referrals from teachers and others for students who are missing school or not attending at all. I assume that there is no malice on behalf of the kid and that there is a reason for not attending school. First, I contact the student and find out the issue; second, I build a relationship with the student and family; and lastly, we work on solving the referring problem.”

What is the structure for all Henry students to be connected with Henry staff? “All supportive staff at Henry have a caseload. There are seven of us at Henry who are associate educators.  Each person is responsible for being the point person for individual students. A point person is to advocate for students they are assigned to. If a family is already connected to a Henry staff person, that person becomes the primary support person.”

What do you see as issues with distance learning? “Having a social connection with classmates and staff. Another problem is it can be difficult to find a student through technology who doesn’t want to be found – if we were in the school building, a support person can go right to the student.”

What do you like about distance learning? “This arrangement allows kids to work on their own schedule. Some have responsibilities at home allowing for flexibility and a more relaxed schedule. There are a lot of opportunities to learn and use technology as we become a more technological world. Students have more opportunities to explore websites that they may not have seen before.”

A plug from Mark: “We have a homework help site for Henry students that can be used by any Minneapolis Public School student with a valid MPS email. The homework help is open every day from 8:30-3:30. Almost 200 students are currently part of this site.” Mark helps with all subject matter except Chinese, Hmong and Japanese language coursework.

To get to the site the options are:  go to Henry’s website,

In summary: Mark is a man wearing many hats at Henry as: Associate Educator (labeled Behavioral Interventionist by Minneapolis Schools), 9th grade boys basketball coach, assistant boys varsity basketball coach, homework helper, and Google classroom leader with three student groups that meet on the Internet: chess club, art club and creative writing. Personally, this author does not agree of the job title “behavioral interventionist” given to Mark and his colleagues, for the official definition of a B.I. is “one who assists individuals to eliminate or replace disruptive harmful negative behaviors with positive actions.” Instead, I see individuals, such as Mark, as working in a wholistic way to reach out and enrich lives of all Henry youth and their families and the community, especially during this time of distance learning.

To you of the Henry Community, Mark says: “We, at Henry, have your back, students and families. If we can’t help you we will connect you with a staff member who can. You are our extended family.”