Starting this week, South St Paul’s High School students with above-average grades in any class can work online from home on Wednesdays.
Meanwhile, students with a C-minus or less should attend school for individualized learning tailored to the area or areas where they are struggling.
“Packer Plus: What I Need ‘Wednesday'” aims to further encourage good grades and help struggling learners quickly. School officials say the idea, which had a volunteer trial run late last year during the pandemic-induced distance learning, has support from district leaders and teachers. But many parents have voiced their concerns, the main concern being that students will drop out of the curriculum and be split between good and bad.
Although the school will give students without a C-minus or reduce the option to participate in in-person learning on Wednesday, parents Skip Longan question what they’ll do and do if they do. He has his own theory and has given his name for it: “Roaming the Streets Wednesday.”
“The matrix, the optics, everything about it tells me it’s a bad idea,” he said. “Not going to school on Wednesdays, that’s a 20 percent drop in individual learning right there. And even if you go to school, you’re not getting new instruction, new lesson plans.”
South St Paul’s High School principal Chuck Ochoki said he had heard concerns that Wednesday would be a day off, and some are valid, some not.
“No, every child has to work on Wednesdays,” he said. “The choice becomes, do I do this at school or do I do it at home? I get it, fully understand that what we’re trying to do hasn’t been done before. It doesn’t look like the school I attended as a freshman in 1986. It’s really different, and so we have to understand that part.”
How will this work?
The plan focuses on early intervention by giving teachers a system that helps students as soon as they start falling behind in classes, instead of waiting until the end of the quarter.
Ochoki said it would work like this:
After school on Monday, homeroom teachers will pull up grades to see where students stand. If they are getting less than a C grade, they will be told on Tuesday morning that they must come to school the next day. Parents will be informed via email.
Wednesdays will begin later for all students – at 9:30 a.m. instead of the usual 7:50 a.m. – so that teachers have time to collaborate and work together to improve students’ learning and achievement.
For students with average and above grades, their day will mostly be made up of enrichment work – no new lessons – even if they choose to do it.
“They’re going to dig really deep into topics that are interesting to them,” Ochoki said.
Students struggling in the classroom will have extra support at school to help them raise their grades.
Traditionally, school districts have offered intervention programs by adding more periods to their school days, but this can be costly. Then there are awesome school and summer programs for students. “We’re building a system here with no new money,” Ochoki said.
South St Paul’s schools superintendent Dave Webb said the district has continued to study and learn from the pandemic and this prompted him to ask if there was a better way to meet the needs of more students.
“And do students need to be at their desks in the same class five days a week to maximize their learning? That’s a good question,” he said. “And we believe that our students need more need, and sometimes by opening up that program, our students can achieve more for college-prep kids, more for intervention kids.”
Ochoki said the pandemic has made it difficult for students to get back into the swing of things after last year’s distance learning. After checking grades last weekend, they found that out of the school’s roughly 960 students, just over 500 would need to show up this Wednesday.
But if last year’s volunteer trial is any indication, he said, even those who are not required to show up will do so. Three weeks into the third and final 12-week quarter, teachers reached out to families to ask if children would like additional personal support on Wednesdays. He said, initially the attendance was low, but eventually it exceeded the expectations of the teachers.
Ochoki hopes that there will be more students who will not be needed. Unlike last year, the school will provide bus transport to the students and will also provide breakfast and lunch.
“And so we didn’t have some kids we needed to see, because transportation was an issue and food could have been an issue,” he said.
But the results were promising when it came to improving grades for both groups of students, he said. According to data provided by the school, the number of failed classes dropped from 24 per cent to 19 per cent after the program was implemented. The percentage of students who failed at least one class fell from 39 percent to 35 percent. And students earning at least one A grade increased from 30 percent to 31 percent.
In a survey of students at the end of the year, the school asked, “What did we do this year that you liked?” Ochoki said that 38 percent of the students who answered the open-ended question mentioned Wednesday’s program, with many commenting that they liked the extra help.
The challenge with a new intervention strategy is that often enough time is not given to see if it works, said Nicola Alexander, a University of Minnesota professor and associate dean who studies K-12 education policy.
“I can understand why we don’t give it enough time, because, being a mom, I don’t want my child to be invested in something that doesn’t work,” she said. “But now it’s the nature of the intervention, you won’t know until time passes.”
Although better grades are an obvious measuring stick, she said it’s difficult to compare one year to the next “because you’re not working with the same group of students. There are many other factors that can come into play.” .
Linda Diaz, the board chair of South St Paul Public Schools, said board members were informed of the plan in late August. She said that although it didn’t require a board vote to go ahead, “we thought it was a good idea, that it’s great to catch the bottom third kids who are failing at least one class throughout the semester.” , before they fall even further behind and then have to recover the debt.”
Diaz said she’s heard from curious and worried parents on the phone, when out and around town, and in three in-person question-and-answer sessions over the past week. She said parents asked for as much data as possible in the program, while not at the end.
“South St. Paul’s is a very small community and trying something new, being innovative, is scary sometimes,” she said. “So how do we show that kids can, that we can try this? It worked in this little pilot – the kids loved it, the teachers who participated in it liked it. But that doesn’t mean it That if it fails, we will continue it. We will not allow it to be embraced by anyone.”