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Extra class time built in to help struggling students this fall

July 23, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT, Md. — Last fall, Springfield Middle School educators were reviewing students' progress in meeting county reading and math goals and realized several students were behind, Principal Jennifer Ruppenthal said.

So they carved a 40-minute block out of the school day, twice a week from January until March when the assessment tests were given, and used that time to give struggling students extra help.

Students who didn't need intervention read novels along with their teachers or listened to audiobooks and completed related activities to improve their comprehension skills.

Last month, the middle school in Williamsport found out it was no longer an "alert" school after its students met adequate yearly progress on the 2011 reading and math assessment tests.

A preliminary analysis of last school year's assessment test results shows that extra time helped Springfield's outgoing eighth-graders, Ruppenthal said. School officials still need to finish analyzing the data, but Ruppenthal said she believes the extra time also helped the sixth- and seventh-graders.

This coming school year, Springfield, like some other county middle schools, will make time during the school day to provide students with focused attention for intervention or advanced lessons.

"I feel that it's going to be a great thing for our entire student population," Ruppenthal said.

The idea is to make time to give students support in subjects in which they are not doing well or to give them an opportunity for extensive learning in subjects in which they are succeeding, said Clyde Harrell, director for curriculum and instruction for prekindergarten through 12th grade.

Struggling students already receive intervention, but that often involved pulling them out of other classes such as art, music or physical education, Harrell said. And that still could happen occasionally, educators said.

The new class period is the result of a middle-school task force formed about four years ago and is similar to a Frederick County Public Schools program that Washington County educators visited in the last school year, Harrell and middle-school principals said.

The middle schools that are creating an extra period for students this school year are handling that time differently from school to school, Harrell said.

"Many students are challenged with the inability to stay after school, so this is an opportunity to give more individual instruction during the school day," said Mike Kuhaneck, principal at Western Heights Middle School in Hagerstown's West End.

The general idea is for educators to use the time to advise students, help struggling students or give students further enrichment, middle-school principals said.

Two common threads in several of these programs are preparing students for college and careers, and teaching methods that are indicative of the Common Core curriculum that Maryland is implementing in 2013-14.

"The reality of life is there's more professional jobs than assembly-line jobs," Northern Middle School Principal Mike Chilcutt said.

With such jobs come the need for workers to collaborate and continuously learn, he said.

Some middle schools will have groups of students in an AVID — Advancement Via Individual Determination — program. Students will learn the Cornell note-taking system, how to work collaboratively, and how to develop questioning and writing skills, Ruppenthal and Chilcutt said.

Another program that Northern Middle, in Hagerstown's North End, will offer is cross-curricular collaborations.

One idea involves having students read different biographies of famous people, assume those identities and hold a "dinner" conversation.

"I might be Winston Churchill, you might be Gandhi and someone might be Jimi Hendrix," Chilcutt said.

That example includes at least three aspects of the Common Core — having students read more nonfiction, teaching students how to make sound arguments and public speaking, Chilcutt said.

Some schools have been or will be offering clubs during the extra period.

Clubs are formed around students' interests and help educators build relationships with the students, Chilcutt said. At one point, Chilcutt led a football club and taught leadership. Last school year, he led a drawing club.

In many cases, the new periods will involve most adults in the schools, including counselors and principals, who each will have students to mentor or teach.

Duane McNairn, principal at E. Russell Hicks Middle School in Hagerstown's South End, said he's not concerned about shaving a few minutes off other classes to create the extra period because the time is being used to focus on meeting students' particular needs.

"I think it's a good thing for our kids. ... I think we need to find a way to make it work because it's going to help our kids," McNairn said.

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