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Schedule change gives kids room to learn

January 20, 1997

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

CASCADE - As a long-term substitute at Cascade Elementary School last year, Kelli Stine found out how difficult it is to focus on reading skills with a small group of students when the rest of your class is supposed to be working quietly at their desks.

"Of course, there's more noise and interruption that way," said Stine, who felt she was short-selling both groups of her second-grade class under the system, which required her to assign what equated to "busy work" to her desk-bound students.

This year - thanks to a new scheduling system using two new full-time teaching positions funded by federal Title 1 money - Stine said she can focus her full attention on a small "guided reading" group while her other students are engaged in enrichment activities in the computer or extension lab.

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"I have the room to myself with six to eight kids," said Stine, who has her own third-grade class this year. "It's much more productive."

Implemented at the beginning of the school year, the unique "parallel block scheduling" system allows all students in first through fifth grades to spend 55 minutes working with their homeroom teacher and a few students at their reading level every third day.

One of the other days is spent working with teacher Deb Rader and a larger group of students in the extension lab, where they do a variety of activities - many hands-on projects - designed to reinforce classroom instruction and help prepare them for statewide assessment tests.

The other day they go to the computer lab, where teacher Karen Y. Young works with them on both technology skills and curriculum-related activities.

"To me, it's a win-win situation for everyone in the building because you have children who are getting quality instruction while the small guided-reading groups are going on," said Young, who taught fourth grade at the school last year. "Everything that the classroom and homeroom teacher do, we reinforce in our setting."

On Thursday, for example, Young had students write "thank you" letters to the Cascade American Legion, which recently donated money to the school for computer-related purchases.

In addition to working on their computer skills, Young said, children were learning English skills like the correct form for a "thank you" letter and what kind of things to include.

On the same day, Rader had her group of fifth-grade students work on a writing exercise that required them to interpret a bar graph comparing different countries' energy consumption.

The activity integrated language, social studies and math curriculum, as well as honing students' general problem-solving ability, said Rader, who taught third grade at the school last year.

Cascade students say they're learning more this year because of the new system.

"I like the extension lab. It extends your ability to do what you're doing in class," said fifth-grader Mark Lewis, 10, who said he'd recently learned about graphs from his homeroom teacher.

"In extension lab, when we were doing air and flight in science, she let us build an airplane," said fourth-grader Julie Weaver, 9. "We do a lot of fun things."

Fifth-grader Sara Holtz, 11, said she's learned a lot of things in computer lab that have helped her with her computer at home.

Fifth-grader Nicole Heiston, 10, said she appreciates the intensive time she gets working in her small reading group.

"You can get through more," she said. "It's not a hassle. It's not as loud. You can concentrate."

Cascade Elementary is one of only three schools in the county with a school-wide Title 1 program, the eligibility of which is determined by its large number of low-income students as indicated by the amount of students receiving free and reduced lunches, according to Principal Johnetta W. Neal.

By developing and submitting a comprehensive school plan detailing how the additional funds will help student improvement on statewide performance assessment tests, Cascade Elementary was able to increase its Title 1 funding from $57,000 in the 1995-96 school year to $128,448 in the 1996-1997 school year, Neal said.

That funding pays for Rader's and Young's positions, which enabled the school to implement the parallel block scheduling system, she said.

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