Fewer classes a day will allow more courses a year New schedules to affect Howard, Atholton students HOWARD COUNTY EDUCATION

April 05, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Students at two county high schools will take more classes next year thanks to a radical change in the school-day structure.

Under new four-period schedules, students at Howard and Atholton will be able to pick up two to four additional classes in such subjects as foreign language, music or drama.

The new schedules are a response to the state's more stringent graduation requirements, which have left students less time for electives.

Howard High tentatively will follow a model that schedules four 86-minute classes and a 30-minute lunch period. That structure allows students to take four classes the first half of the school year and four different classes the second half, instead of six year-long courses.

"I wish I had thought about this a long while back," said Principal Eugene Streagle, who traveled as far as Colorado to check out school schedules.

Students finished choosing classes last week and were happy to see a change, saying they would finally be able to take classes that were out of the question under the old schedule.

"I was able to double up on math, and I was able to take computer keyboarding, which I wouldn't have been able to take if it was a regular six-period day," said Peter Bachman, a 14-year-old freshman.

The four-period day is "less stress, because you don't have to worry about six different tests," said sophomore Erica Gloger. "Teachers have fewer students, and they'll be more willing to stay after school, depending on who the teacher is, of course."

But some students are afraid of the unknown.

Sophomore Christopher Dodson worries about the extra stress students will endure: Report cards will come out eight times, instead of four times. That means students who fail one test will have less time to pull up their scores before the next report card.

"There's enough pressure as it is to get high grades," said Christopher, 16. "A lot of kids don't need [extra report cards], especially if they're involved with extra-curricular activities."

Mr. Streagle has a different perspective.

"Parents like that because they have a better handle on what their students are doing," he said. He said the school will re-evaluate next year to determine whether report cards should be issued fewer times.

With the new schedule, the county has added new courses, including aerobics and weight training for girls. Students are auditioning for the choral program and signing up in great numbers for positions on the yearbook and newspaper staffs, said Linda Wise, Howard's guidance department chairperson.

Most students are opting to take more academic courses as their two extra classes -- additional years of science, math and foreign language, she said.

Atholton will follow a year-round schedule that has six 90-minute classes and one 55-minute class, with the lunch period still undetermined. Students will alternate three 90-minute classes one day with different ones the next. They will attend the 55-minute class daily.

Getting to take "more classes is better, but sitting in longer classes is not," said sophomore Michael Radford.

Having a four-period day will make school less "frenetic and disjointed," said Principal Scott Pfeifer. "I'm excited, really excited at the opportunity this provides for students."

More than 85 percent of teachers, students and parents had voted for a different schedule, he said.

The change at both schools also means a big adjustment for teachers, who must adapt to teaching longer classes. Superintendent Michael E. Hickey has allowed both schools to close early for a week this month so that teachers can attend staff development and training seminars.

Both principals predict higher levels of achievement for students and teachers under the new schedules.

"It's going to make teachers better teachers," Mr. Pfeifer said. "The hands-on approach we want teachers to employ becomes even more necessary. You just can't stand at the lectern for 90 minutes."

"It brings teachers to a point where they can no longer stand in front of the classroom and distribute information anymore," Mr. Streagle said. "The teaching becomes better, and the corollary is the learning increases."

Two other high schools allow students to take more than six classes a year: Centennial, where students must skip lunch to accommodate an extra class; and Wilde Lake, which allows students to take as many as 12 credits a year. Some Wilde Lake students graduate with as many 36 credits, compared with the standard 24.

"Over the past decade, there's been increased expectation from students across the state of Maryland, which is not a bad thing," said Associate Superintendent Joan Palmer, who is in charge of curriculum.

But the new graduation requirements leave little time for electives, either for career preparation or personal development, she said.

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