N. Carroll High looks forward to four-course school day

March 01, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

Can a high school student's brain work for 90 minutes at a time? On one subject?

For North Carroll High School students and parents who are wondering, the folks at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick have an enthusiastic answer: Yes.

Starting in September, North Carroll students will take four courses the first semester, spending 90 minutes a day in each. The second semester, they will take four other courses.

"The teachers are able to help me with my work more," said Thomas Johnson senior Amy Tyeryar. "My grades have gone up."

"The day goes by faster, because you only have four classes," said TJ sophomore Tanya Errington.

"We wouldn't go back to the seven-period day," said classmate Rianne Youngren.

A new approach

For decades, most U.S. high schools have operated with about seven 45-minute class periods a day, classes lasting nine months.

But North Carroll is joining the growing ranks of schools which say that set-up wastes time with "passing periods" between classes, interrupts lessons that just need more time, and is too stressful for students and teachers.

Last September, Thomas Johnson High became the first school in the state to adopt a four-period day. Four more Frederick County high schools will do the same next year, and others in the state are considering it.

Westminster and South Carroll high schools plan to make the change in September 1994.

Visitors look in

Carroll County teachers and students visited TJ last fall when they began considering the change. They also visited two schools in Colorado and another in Richmond, Va.

In fact, Thomas Johnson has become something of an educational tourist attraction. One day last week, visitors from Allegany High School in Cumberland and a Pittsburgh high school were there.

The team from Allegany High left with a good impression.

"I haven't heard a negative statement yet from anyone," said Allegany social studies teacher Jim Stakem, who also taught in Carroll County in the 1960s.

The motivation to change to four classes a day at Thomas Johnson was not directly for students; it was to help teachers, Principal Michael Riley admits.

The goals: to reduce the number of students that teachers have each semester, and to give teachers more planning time.

"If you really want to make things better, you have to cut the load," he said. "The bottom line is, we think that's going to pay off for kids in a big way."

The motivation at North Carroll is a little different.

"Our primary motivation is to make better use of class time and get students more actively involved in learning, and use higher-level thinking skills," said Principal Gregory Eckles.

North Carroll teachers may not get a whole 90 minutes of planning time per day, however. Dr. Eckles said the school doesn't have enough staff to do that.

A teacher's nonclass period is likely to be split up between about 60 minutes of planning and about 30 minutes of some kind of supervision, such as staffing a drop-in center for students needing extra help in a particular subject.

Banishing boredom

One of the first concerns a lot of parents and students at North Carroll had was whether 90 minutes of one class would get very boring.

At Thomas Johnson, only one student interviewed said he had that problem -- with two teachers who probably would be boring even if the class were only 45 minutes long.

"You sleep, or you get into a lot of trouble for talking," said sophomore Kalani Hernandez.

"I don't have one boring teacher," sophomore Sandy Neander said. "The teachers seem to like it better. They get more work done."

Students volunteered several benefits they see in the change. Rianne Youngren takes home a little more confidence with her homework.

"You can start a lesson and, if you don't understand it, you can talk to the teacher," Rianne said.

Students get more electives

Most students will get a net increase in electives, and courses in general. The new system allows them to earn 32 credits over four years, instead of a maximum of 28 under the seven-period day.

For college-bound students such as Sandy Neander of Frederick, that means a chance to take two languages. Sandy has been taking Latin and next year will add Swahili, which TJ will offer for the first time.

"As a senior, you can take all electives and AP [advanced placement] courses," Sandy said.

Dr. Eckles said North Carroll students have begun to sign up for courses next year, and many want to double up and take more than two academic courses per semester.

"I just think the students see this as an opportunity to advance," he said. "We're hearing reasons like, 'It will give me a better chance to get into the Naval Academy.'

"It makes me wonder if we've been holding these students back," Dr. Eckles said.

He said no new courses will be added next year, but in the future he would like to bring back Latin and begin offering German. The school now offers only Spanish and French.

Band students make a choice

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