Even the most professional of jugglers has a difficult time trying to handle several objects at once. The same applies to high school students who are trying to juggle a hefty class schedule in a quest for credits in order to graduate.
Seeing the struggle the students are facing, Pocahontas County High School principal Michael Adkins is looking for a way to make that juggling act a little easier.
Currently, the schedule at PCHS is block scheduling – four blocks or classes a day, with one of those blocks split in two. The classes change at the end of the fall semester to a new block of four or five classes.
The schedule was implemented in the 1996-1997 school year and while it worked for a while, a new state regulation, which requires students to have four credits each of English/language arts, history, math and science, as well as extracurricular and/or Career and Technical Education [CTE] classes, has put a burden on the students.
“We’re looking at our schedule because our dropout rate is pretty bad,” Adkins said. “The block schedule isn’t flexible enough for us, so I set up a schedule committee and their whole job the first semester was to research a possible master schedule framework for us.”
The committee suggested six period days, seven period days, a trimester system and staying in the block schedule.
Of all the suggestions, Adkins said he believes the trimester schedule will be the best option for PCHS.
“Instead of a semester, you divide the year up into three parts – twelve weeks instead of eighteen weeks,” he said. “You’ve got your fall, your winter and your spring. Each of these sections is twelve weeks and the classes that you take in those sections are half credit. We’ll be running five classes a day.”
With the trimester schedule, a student has the possibility to earn up to seven-and-a-half credits a year, ending their four years of high school with a maximum of 30 credits. With block scheduling, students have the possibility of earning 32 credits. The West Virginia Department of Educa- tion requirement is 24 credits to graduate high school.
While it seems odd to have classes take two semesters, it gives struggling students a better chance at learning the curriculum as well as a chance to make up failed classes in a more timely fashion.
For example, a freshman will be enrolled in Math 1A in the first semester. If he passes the class, he will move on to Math 1B in the second semester. If he fails, he will be able to take Math 1A in the second semester instead of waiting until the next school year.
“What that does is it gives them immediate remediation,” Adkins said. “They can retake the class. That’s why I love the fact that this is much more than the twenty-four [required credits] because it’s set up to help kids if they don’t succeed the first time. That’s one of the ways our block schedule is really limiting our kids. In the trimester, if you fail it, you would take it again and then get the remediation you need and move on to 1B in the spring. This would be kind of what we need to do to help the kids who are having a hard time.”
In the past several years, the dropout rate and low grades have continued to increase, showing that there is something wrong with the education formula at the high school.
“Our dropout rate is too high,” Adkins said. “Our Ds and Fs are too high. The schedule is not a magic bullet to fix this problem. It’s a good place to start. It has more flexibility, but there’s a lot more to the fact that our kids are dropping out than just how many blocks they have in the day. Some of it we can help with and some of it we can’t. We need to focus on the things we can help.”
Adkins has been in touch with a school superintendent in Michigan who has schools using the trimester schedule and feels it is the right move.
“I’ve been in contact with two other schools that are running it,” he said. “They highly recommend it. There’s a superintendent, he’s done a lot of research on it, and he’s put together this informational packet and it was our starting point whenever our teachers were researching it in the scheduling committee.”
While it is scary to make changes to something as important as the education of children, Adkins said he feels the trimester is a step in the right direction.
“It’s just new,” he said. “Nobody knows what it is, and so they’re scared, especially because I’m new. It’s not like I’m coming in here as a foreigner and trying to push my will on things. I’m going by what people are telling me and what people are researching for me. We’re not the same system that we were twenty years ago. We can’t do it the same way we did it twenty years ago.
“I want to have this framework out there, but I want to give [the teachers] the freedom to build it the way that it needs to be in order to help our kiddos. It’s going to take more than me. I’m not a schedule mastermind kind of guy.”
The schedule change will not fix all the problems PCHS is facing, but it will be a stepping stone to ensuring the students remain in school and enjoy their education.
“This is not the perfect solution to all of our problems,” Adkins said. “There are some other policies and the cultural component that we need to look at. This is a technical change about how you arrange numbers and how you arrange lines. Sometimes, kids don’t want to come here. Sometimes adults don’t want to come here. There’s a lot going on in that culture component and if you just change the system and not the culture, it’s like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic – it’s more organized, it’s better, but it doesn’t keep it from sinking.”
Adkins said he will present the proposed trimester schedule to the board of education and teachers with plans to implement it in the near future. He also plans to ask educators who work with a trimester schedule to visit PCHS to give insight to the staff and community.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org