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Schools' scheduling experiment is a winner

February 23, 1997

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

WILLIAMSPORT - Williamsport High School senior Michelle Freeman remembers the distress she experienced freshman year, when her school was gearing up to dramatically change its scheduling system.

"I was probably the most against getting the four-mod system," said Freeman, 17, who feared the system's two-semester structure might hurt her straight-A average and standardized test scores. "I was afraid you'd forget all that information."

Thankfully, the Washington County Board of Education didn't let protests by her and her mother keep the school from trying out the new system, said Freeman, who now touts its many advantages over the traditional seven-period system.

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Administrators, teachers and other students at the school are also sold on the system, which gives students four 90-minute class periods a day.

Williamsport students may be forced to switch back if the school board decides to standardize the county's schedules.

Of the three types of schedules in use in Washington County now, Freeman hopes board members expand her school's "four-mod" model, also used at South Hagerstown High School.

Freeman said the system's advantages include allowing students to earn an additional credit each year and expanded class offerings. She expects the semester structure will ease her transition to college life.

William B. McKinley, director of secondary education, said the system challenges teachers, who must develop different teaching strategies to adapt to the longer class periods.

Teacher Charlotte Trout said her chemistry and physics classes have gained from the longer periods.

"A lot of science labs take 50 minutes to an hour to do right," said Trout, who use to have to figure out ways to either shorten lab projects or divide them into two periods.

"Now we can do a pre-lab, a lab and a post-lab all in one day, and students get a real continuity."

Because students aren't changing classes as often, less instructional time is wasted, Trout said.

Williamsport High Principal James H. Hardin uses hard data to support his contention that the system has enhanced learning.

The school has had its highest functional test scores ever in reading, mathematics and writing in the past two years, and has exceeded the county average in several areas, McKinley said.

He said Williamsport students have earned more A's and B's in the past two years.

McKinley said the school's Class of 1996 secured nearly $1.3 million in scholarships - more than any other graduating class in the county last year.

The school's attendance rate is also better than other high schools in the county, McKinley said.

Trout said students seem to understand her science presentations better now. She said that the longer class periods allow her to approach a new topic in three different ways - and to reach all types of learners.

"We have time to sit down and get the concepts in their heads," Trout said.

Freshman Lindsay Owens thinks the longer periods helped her in math class last semester.

"They do go over it more thoroughly," said Owens, 15.

Some days, the long classes can get a little boring, said sophomore Billy Blair.

Overall, however, Blair said he likes the system much better than the one at Springfield Middle School, which divided the day into eight periods.

"You don't have as many classes to worry about, and you have less homework," said Blair, 16.

Earlier this month, school board members said they'll study scheduling options with the goal of setting a standard for the county.

North Hagerstown, Smithsburg, Boonsboro and Clear Spring high schools have retained the seven-period day.

At Hancock Middle-Senior High School and Washington County Career Studies Center, students can take up to eight credits a year.

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