By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
ST. JOSEPH — With several extracurricular activities after school and a loaded schedule that includes advance placement classes for calculus and art, Haley Rich has a lot on her plate.
Students, like Rich, are being asked more of these days – whether it’s finishing weekly projects or preparing a portfolio that could someday operate as the tipping point in their favor on a college application.
But a new program at St. Joseph High School called Growth Opportunity Time is giving Rich some time to address anything she feels she wants more time on, as well as some opportunities to have fun.
The program, commonly referred to as GO Time, was introduced to the high school and Upton Middle School in the fall semester this school year. The program has two objectives: Intervention and enrichment.
First, GO Time allows teachers to summon or invite students who are struggling with a subject to get catch up with others while becoming more acquainted with the class. Secondly, GO Time allows students who are doing well in class a chance to try something new or learn something they wouldn’t normally get in a regular classroom setting.
Rich, a junior, is earnest in her schoolwork and admitted she was a bit apprehensive about GO Time.
When she heard students would have to choose something to do once a week for 45 minutes, Rich took that as time lost from her other classes.
Broken down, that was nearly 10 minutes a day that could be spent balancing equations in chemistry or memorizing daunting formulas in calculus. However, when it began last semester and teachers got creative with what was offered, Rich found merit in GO Time.
Last semester, Rich chose to sit in on review sessions while taking in a few of the more fun sessions.
“They are extremely helpful because they’re my hard classes that I might need extra time with anyway,” Rich said. “GO Time actually gave me more time after school to do other things. After two sessions, it totally changed my idea of what it was going to be.”
The roots of the program can be traced back four or five years when the school district’s administration and employees began attending conferences on professional learning communities – or PLCs.
High school Principal Greg Blomgren and other school officials learned of the new concept through meetings at Berrien RESA and by visiting other schools that have sustained success at the top of the state’s public schools.
In fact, GO Time is based on a program made famous by an Illinois high school. Blomgren said the school his staff emulated is years beyond development, having perfected its version over more than three decades.
“We’ve done a lot of research and copied ideas from other schools,” Blomgren said. “A lot of work was done proactively with the roll out with the staff. We didn’t want this tobe a punitive system. We wanted (students) to have more time to work with teachers in an area they needed more help with.”
Blomgren and company began to collaborate with other departments within the school district to make sure they were heading in the right direction toward what the state refers to as “essential standards.”
One of the recurring problems facing education came to the forefront in January during Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearing as President Donald Trump’s nominee to be education secretary in January.
In relation to the debate about student accountability, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, asked DeVos about whether she favored using test scores to measure student proficiency or student growth. Much to the surprise of Democrats, DeVos couldn’t identify the difference.
Many teachers and legislators have argued the problem with proficiency – which is measuring student success by an arbitrary standard – is it neglects students at the top of their class because they’re already ahead of the standard. In the same sense, students at the bottom who don’t have a chance at meeting the curve might also get ignored in the process of keeping that standard.
With GO Time, no one seems to be left out.
“We’re trying to make sure the staff has time to collaborate and ensure all the content is being covered,” Blomgren said. “We look at how we’re assessing the content and the pace of the content. If the kids aren’t processing it, that’s the intervention part. But the kids who are already excelling, are given that chance to get even better.”
Enriching vs. intervening
With GO Time, students either get an opportunity to do something they haven’t done before or get the extra help.
The students who are identified for intervention get an invite by a requesting teacher.
“I think the intervention part is the most important,” Blomgren said. “So many times we have kids, who for transportation reasons, can’t come to spend the extra time with teachers after school. But GO Time builds in that time during school to receive that help. We found that to be a huge benefit.”
Joe Haydon, who predominantly serves as a high school science teacher, was tagged as the GO Time coordinator. He works behind the scenes and was responsible for how the program was introduced last semester.
For intervention purposes, Haydon said things don’t have to be fancy to have an immediate impact.
“Working in smaller groups with 10 or 12 kids seems to be effective,” Haydon said. “Having that smaller group is an easier way of reteaching the subject or pulling out a different teaching method. This gives teachers even more one-on-one time with the students who need additional help.”
But don’t refer to a GO Time intervention session as a form of study hall, Blomgren said. Study hall implies students are working on their own. GO Time is about getting help to understand a subject.
Half the staff offers intervention sessions, while the other half offers enrichment.
Out of the more than 1,000 students at the high school, about 200 normally require intervention, Haydon said. The other 800 go to enrichment sessions that require larger groups.
“It’s great that we have a staff that’s willing to buy in on this,” Haydon said. “They know why we’re doing this and that’s been integral. It really has been a team of people, even from just bouncing ideas off one another.”
Each week comes with a new menu with opportunities for GO Time.
Students visit their portal to view the different sessions on the GO Time menu. They vary from the media center being left open for silent reading to SAT preparations for underclassmen. Some of the more popular GO Time sessions included a mock presidential debate and a visit from state Sen. John Proos.
Former students would come in to talk about their experience at the college level. Counselors also began adding workshops on applying for colleges.
“Is it more work for the teachers? Yes. But it does work with the students,” Blomgren said. “As we get better at this, our goal is to see some improvement in those kids who are struggling. Two or three years down the road, we hope to see an increase in standardized test scores.”
Growing with time
The next GO Time session isn’t until Feb. 23, but that doesn’t mean work isn’t being done to the program.
Minor changes have been occurring since it was introduced in the fall. GO Time began as a 30-minute period, but was changed to 45 minutes. Blomgren said they also moved GO Time to different times of the day, testing when they could get the most out of students.
Because there are so many moving pieces and a surprisingly large amount of students are gone at the beginning and end of a school day, GO Time was moved to early afternoon. Next came the challenge of finding a way to move all 1,050 students at once to their preferred sessions.
That’s where Haydon comes along.
He handles the logistics by lining up speakers/outside presenters, adjusting the GO Time menu, and helping teachers get the spreadsheets and attendance set. The last three weeks of school have been without GO Time so that staff can take a breath and evaluate, Haydon said.
“We’re only six or seven sessions into this, but since the initial GO Time, we have continued to ask for feedback to make adjustments,” Haydon said. “We’re providing some intervention. But is it enough? You are only getting that intervention every few weeks. The solution would be to have multiple GO Times, but that would mean more time needed in planning it.”
Nadia Judge, a sophomore, said she thought GO Time would be similar to having a free period.
The first thing she went to was a chemistry session her teacher held for people who wanted extra help. Students and tutors were there helping them learn to use a specific equation. However, Judge’s favorite GO Time sessions were the interactive ones.
Because she’s part of the Student Foundation, Judge and a few others were able to set up a mock presidential debate a few days before the November general election. They tapped teachers Nita Nicholie and Phillip Cole to play the roles of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, respectively.
It proved to be comedic, while both teachers were able to still make legitimate points about the candidates’ proposed policies.
“They were really enthusiastic about it,” Judge recalled. “The students loved it and we covered a lot of topics.”
Sometimes, the results GO Time produces are more unique than getting a better score on a test.
Haley Rich’s younger brother plays the trumpet and formed a band with a few classmates through a GO Time session in the band room.
With the majority of her classes being AP or college prep courses, Haley Rich said she hopes GO Time sticks around. Not just for the one-on-one time with teachers, but for the reprieve as well.
“It’s not too often, but when we do have it, you can tell it helps,” Rich said. “I think GO Time benefits students because we can continue to learn or have fun for 45 minutes.”
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Feb. 12, 2017)