Time.

I don’t have this entirely substantiated, so if my facts are incorrect, I apologize–this is a quick sketch of my new teaching position and how the students’ classes are structured. I believe my principal made this change last year in order to help more students recover credits and graduated on time or close.

There are a few pathways for students at this alternative high school, but the shift has been to offer ‘day school’ options alongside the computer programs and off-campus options. I’m still learning more about those, and can’t speak to them. However, here’s my role: I was hired as full time ELL/ELA, and in the past had a teacher who came in to support the ELL students and keep up the paperwork, but no full-time class. She’s been helpful in my transition to the building and role as an ELL teacher.

My principal changed the schedule to four periods per day, about 75 minutes each, and each quarter is worth a semester’s credit. As teachers who were in the building prior to this shift have had to adjust their scope/sequences and tighten up content, and it is a challenge to ‘fit it all in’ in a quarter. For me, this is how most high schools should operate, especially for freshmen who are trying to acclimate themselves to high school. There are pros/cons to this schedule, and it would have to be rolled out with intentionality and understanding of impact.

Cons

  • Students at alternative high schools have a different transportation system than others. They have to wait at their home schools for another bus, and the busses are often late, and students must wait outside in the cold. No accommodations are made to keep them warm while they wait.
  • Students at alternative schools often have a deep history of trauma, attendance obstacles, academic and emotional challenges, and if they don’t have the support they require during the school hours when they’re present, and moreover, accommodations for support when they’re not, they lose credits, and then may give up.
  • These accommodations must mean allowing for make-up work at 100%, choosing careful times when they’re present to get the work done (this is happening at my school, but I need to be more conscious of this), and never marking a zero in the grade book if a student is absent: missing, yes, but no zeros. (I need to take a look at this, too.)
  • Four classes a day means there are limited course options. But, the quarters are quick, so they can grab other classes when they need them.

Pros

  • There is time in the class to go at a calmer, deeper-learning pace.
  • The class sizes are smaller at alternative high schools, and the benefits of this cannot be overstated. One notice, though, is if kids are absent, the momentum does slow down.
  • Small class size and longer class periods allows for better connections and relationship building. If one struggles with this as a teacher, it might be challenging.
  • Students can recover credits quickly, and that gives them momentum and hope.
  • Tightens up learning, and as helped me focus on essentials–what’s really important:
    • Reading/Independent reading, journaling, close reading, discussions, seed ideas/ theory of themes, informational texts, and work across all content areas
    • Writing/mini lessons, workshop, and time
    • Listening: listen, discuss, process
    • Speaking: reciprocal, purposeful and frequent

High School Graduation Requirements Information

https://www.k12.wa.us/sites/default/files/public/attendance/pubdocs/GradReqVisualsAug2014.pdf

What a year looks like: (8 credits)

PeriodQuarter 1Quarter 2Quarter 3Quarter 4
1.5.5.5.5
2.5.5.5.5
3.5.5.5.5
4.5.5.5.5

My two freshmen girls are very excited, and so proud of themselves for having completed/passed all their first quarter classes. One girl wants her mom to come to conferences because this is the first time she’s ever passed all of her classes!

Many students, however, continue to struggle with attendance, substance abuse, and other responsibilities.

Some thoughts:

As I get to know my colleagues, it’s my hope that we continue to grow and collaborate on essentials and cross-content connections. I have a lot of autonomy this year to create curriculum, and this space is where I’m fulfilled and excited.

Finally: to all of you 8th grade students out there: please–do NOT blow this year off, thinking it “doesn’t count.” It is for your present and your future–when your teachers say “you’re going to need this” what they mean is not some abstract time, but concrete, hard and fast: you are working on background knowledge, content, skills, strategies and empowering yourself to be turbo-charged for your days in middle school AND for your beginning in high school. Guaranteed, you must be a craftsperson of your own knowledge building. Grades may not “count” in middle school but they count in priceless, immeasurable ways. It’s a paradox. You will feel this vague and uneasy sense that you ‘missed something’ and feel lost. Eighth grade allows you the time to practice, take risks, and fail, and those risks will serve you well.

Voices from the Field:
Why Does Middle Level Matter? https://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/VM/0251-sept2017/VM0251Field.pdf

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