http://danvillesanramon.com/print/story/print/2009/09/25/period-of-change


Danville Express

Cover Story - September 25, 2009

Period of Change

SRVHS program targets freshmen/at-risk students

by Geoff Gillette

Education is a constantly evolving thing, with schools having to integrate new technologies, new methods and new thoughts into curricula that have been around for decades. One thing remains the same: No matter where the school or how it is designed, there will always be students who struggle.

Some will struggle with coursework, some will struggle with social issues. It is this universal constant that led officials at the San Ramon Valley High School to institute a redesign of its school day to give those struggling students a chance to make the grade.

Starting Sept. 21, SRVHS instituted Period 7. What it means is that three days a week, each class is shortened by five minutes in order to create a window of opportunity from 2:40 p.m. to 3:10 p.m. for an additional period. Period 7 is expected to provide remediation for those students who are struggling, guidance and advice to students new to the high school, and enrichment for the other members of the student populace.

"This is a great new program that we think is really going to help our students and allow them to succeed," said SRVHS Principal Joe Ianora.

Period 7 has been several years in the works. Ianora said the idea first came up six years ago, as a result of discussions stemming from the high school's decision to follow the Professional Learning Community (PLC) model.

"We have chosen to embrace the PLC model," he stated. "Under that model you ask three primary questions."

Those questions are:

* What does the school want students to learn and do?

* How do they know they've learned it?

* What do they do about those who don't know it or have already mastered it?

Ianora said that during the past six years they've been looking intensively at the third question, as that is where the most difficulty lies.

"It's a really tough question. What do I do with a kid who hasn't learned it? Do I go back and re-teach it? And if I do, what about the kid who has already mastered it? Doesn't that do them a disservice?" he queried.

These discussions led over time to the concept of Period 7. Ianora said they've been dialoguing over the issue for the past two years and began to put all the pieces in place during the last 18 months.

The way the program is designed, there are three groups of students who will have mandatory participation. Students who have one or more F's will be in guided study halls to provide them the remediation they need to bring their grade up and finish coursework.

Freshmen students will meet with teachers and upper class "link leaders" on Mondays and Wednesdays to discuss both the social and educational changes that come with being in high school. Thursdays they are allowed a "free choice" day.

Athletes are required to meet with their coaches for a guided study hall where they get a jump on their homework or seek out assistance in classes where they may be struggling.

Ianora said by focusing on freshmen and those at risk of failing a class, they give those groups the assistance they need to make it over the hump.

"In all the studies we've read about students, freshmen have the highest rate of flunking and the highest rate of dropping out," he said. "Freshman year is the hardest adjustment both socially and academically."

By the first progress report of the quarter, Ianora said as many as 150 students out of the 2,000 students at SRVHS are failing and that number can climb even higher by the time grades are posted at the end of the quarter.

"Having them (freshmen) meet with other students and faculty advisers helps them make that adjustment. We've come up with a program to help the freshman student focus and stay successful," he explained.

Those who do not fall into those categories have several choices available to them. Ianora said they can have guided study halls where they can start on homework or they can seek out teacher help, spend volunteer time tutoring, or participate in co-curricular activities such as speech or robotics.

With the three mandatory groups, attendance will be taken, but not for the rest of the students. So, what is to stop them from simply leaving school at 2:40 p.m. each day?

"That is going to happen," Ianora said. "We expect everyone to participate, but we're realistic. We know kids won't always make the right choice."

He added, "We have so many things to offer; 90 percent of our students are engaged in some activity, whether it's extracurricular, co-curricular or athletics. It's a very small portion of the population that will not have something specific to do."

Ianora said that what they are doing by creating the free choice days is empower students to take a hand in their educational future. Allowing them to meet with teachers during office hours gives them the additional help they may not be able to get when doing their homework after school.

The first day of Period 7 seemed to go well. Students were given an outline of what free choice activities they could do, teachers explained which days they would be available for office hours, and freshmen met with their link leaders.

In biology teacher Penny Davis' classroom, the link leaders split the freshmen up into groups, getting them to talk about themselves and get to know each other.

Davis said the activities allowed the students to meet and introduce themselves, helping to build social bonds. The groups were encouraged to do activities such as finding out how many of their fellow students had been to the same cities.

In Robin Groch's biology classroom, older students gathered. Many worked on homework assignments, some on the room's two computer terminals. Other students lined up to get additional instruction from Groch about their assignments.

Outside the school, scattered students left the campus at 2:40 p.m. One student, who asked not to be identified, said he did not think he needed to stay for Period 7 since he wasn't a freshman, an athlete or flunking any classes.

"My mom said it wasn't necessary for me to stay if I didn't want to," he stated. "There wasn't anything I needed to talk to any of my teachers about, so I left."

Ianora said he hopes that as students' interests are piqued by the various enrichment activities offered, the number of students leaving the campus will dwindle.

"We feel the benefits of this are huge. A kid is going to pick up at least another 90 minutes of remediation or direct enrichment each week. It's going to be a good thing," he enthused.

San Ramon Valley Unified School District Superintendent Steve Enoch said he is excited to see what will happen with Period 7. SRVHS is the only high school in the district attempting the guided learning period, and he is hopeful that it is going to yield real benefits for the students.

"I think what the school is doing is giving the kids some targeted assistance and giving kids choices," Enoch said. "These are all good things."

Enoch said he believes choice is invaluable to today's students who are going through school and graduating without having to make a lot of decisions. This can lead to problems when the student goes away to college and experiences that freedom to choose.

High school officials will be gauging the effectiveness of the program over the next several months and are expected to reassess it in April.

"The jury is out on this right now and the school admits that," said Enoch. "The intent is excellent, the goal is noble, and we'll see if this process comes out as they are hoping it will."

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