More time for academics proposed at SMS
FRISCO – Summit County’s middle schoolers will hit the books a little harder next year, according to a proposed schedule overhaul recently unveiled to the public and the school board.
The Summit Middle School (SMS) Task Force has devised a school day that includes more time for academic instruction and less time for electives such as physical education (PE), foreign language, winter ecology, first aid and some music and art classes.
“The amount of instructional time doesn’t change,” said SMS dean of students Tom Dickey. “What changes is the amount of time our teachers spend with our students in academic instruction. All our teachers teach one to two electives, and we’re proposing putting that time back into academics.”
School district administrators convened the task force in September to develop proposals that would increase academic achievement at the school.
Teachers and a handful of parents and administrators comprise the group which has researched a host of schools and programs throughout the year.
The school board and the superintendent have yet to sign off on the proposals.
The task force has proposed a 260-minute “academic block” each day for all its students.
The block would include math, science, humanities, language arts and reading, all in a malleable schedule as determined by teachers on a weekly basis.
“The block schedule provides students opportunities for hands-on, project-oriented learning,” said SMS counselor Toni Napolitano. “It allows more student contact time with less spent on passing and settling in.
“It also provides flexibility. If a biology teacher has a science lab now, there are only 43 minutes for the lab. The block schedule would allow a 60-minute or a 90-minute lab,” Napolitano added.
Under the current schedule, sixth- and seventh-graders now spend 215 minutes per day in core academic classes; eighth-graders spend 172 minutes per day – half their daily scheduled class time – in those subjects.
“They have a pretty expansive list of electives,” Dickey said. “Foreign language, Knowledge Bowl, Kit Biology, Create-a-Craft, Project Initiative, visual arts.” he proposal houses PE, foreign language, fine arts and technology in “alternating blocks,” which would meet for an hour every other day.
Students would spend about 30 percent less total time in classes such as PE and band, as compared to the existing schedule.
“Would we rather continue with the amount of time we have now? Sure,” said music teacher Mark Clark. “But, if given the choice between less time every day and more time every other day, it works best if the teachers have them longer every other day for most of the electives. There’s all the set-up and tear-down for visual arts and PE. For music, I can deal with it both ways.”
The less traditional elective programs would be eliminated or offered as after-school activities.
“For some of these classes, we would like to say, “OK, we can do this, but after school as opposed to during the academic time,'” Dickey said. “Research shows that kids get into trouble between the time school gets out and the time parents get home.
“By providing structured, supervised programs after school, hopefully, that will prevent some of the trouble the kids get into.”
Dickey anticipates the proposed schedule change would require the elimination of at least one PE teacher position, but that current staffing would not be reduced in any other areas.
Daily advisory program
The task force also proposed a 15-minute advisory period, in which students would receive coaching on time management and study skills in a small-group setting at the beginning of each school day.
“(The adviser) would come up with advice to help the students be successful: “You have a science test on Wednesday and a math project on Thursday,'” Dickey said.
“The teacher would be getting to know the student, acting as an advocate, reporting home to the parent – really working with the students to get them involved in understanding how they’re going to be successful.”
The advisory period would add 20 minutes to the school day, the logistics of which would have impacts on other schools in the district due to busing.
At last week’s school board meeting, parent Dan Basica worried that his child’s school day is long enough with a daily bus ride to and from his home in Copper.
“I’m in support of an advisory program, but I don’t think we need a longer school day,” Basica said.
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