Parents dubious about 4-period day

January 08, 1995|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

Parents were armed with questions Thursday when they attended an informational meeting on Bel Air High School's proposed four-period day. Some said they left with more questions and not enough answers.

"I'd like to see a lot less discussion and have schools lay it on the line with objective information," said Warren Hartenstine, the father of two Bel Air Middle School students. "The risk to our children is too high."

Calling the four-period day the "new vogue program," John Moffa, the father of an eighth-grader, said, "Some might have the ability to choose between Bel Air High School or a private school. I would like to see statistics soon, so I can decide."

The fathers were speaking at the third and last session for parents on the proposed change from a seven-period day to a four-period one. About 50 parents attended the discussion led by Principal William M. Ekey. Mr. Ekey also had mailed letters with stamped response cards to parents last week, inquiring about their preferences. He said the percentage of cards received by Jan. 20 favoring the proposal would help him determine whether the four-period day should begin in September.

The proposed schedule calls for four 80-minute classes a day each semester instead of seven 45-minute classes a day for the whole school year.

"The heart of the matter is what is best for the students," Mr. Ekey said. "As I look at other schools, I think this is the best thing."

In 1992, Gov. Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick became the first in Maryland to institute the longer periods. Now, 24 schools in the state have four-period days.

Joppatowne High School inaugurated Harford's first four-period day in September.

"I am elated at what has happened at Joppatowne High School since we've gone to a four-period day," Principal Doris L. Williams said. "It's extremely calm. We don't have students moving as often in the school."

One of the biggest advantages, she said, is the increase in the number of students on the honor roll. About 150 students previously make the honor roll, which requires a 3.0 grade point average. With the four-period day, the number has more than doubled, to 350, Mrs. Williams said.

The number of distinguished honor students also has increased, she said. Previously, 15 to 20 students would qualify with 3.7 grade point averages. Even with the grade point requirement raised to 4.0, 66 students claimed a spot on the honor roll this quarter.

"It's a direct result of the four-period day and kids being able to focus," Mrs. Williams said.

The benefits of a four-period day, according to educators, also include fewer students for each teacher, fewer class preparations and more planning time. For students, it means fewer classes, fewer teachers and the opportunity to take more courses.

Students now take seven courses each school year. With the new schedule, they would be able to sign up for eight.

One concern of parents and students is advanced placement classes, which offer intensive study. "It's really stressful in the advanced placement classes," said Emily Francis, a senior at Joppatowne High. "I'd definitely go back to seven periods."

The longer class periods do give her added time to learn skills in her photography class, she said. "You get to spend more time in the darkroom."

Many teachers support the longer classes. "It's tailor-made for what I do in environmental science," said Steve Hillyer, a teacher at Joppatowne. "It gives us a chance to see how it all fits together."

Anne Bartram, a Bel Air High biology teacher, said, "I can't wait to do a lab from beginning to end in one day. I've never done that."

Rick Vesely, the father of a Bel Air ninth-grader, wondered about the 900 minutes of class time that would be lost each school year in the transition to the four-period day. "What are they going to cut?" he said.

He was referring to the difference between 180 days of a 45-minute class and 90 days of an 80-minute class.

"I feel like we will be gaining more productive instructional time," said Lori Grego, who teaches English and French at Bel Air High. She said much time is taken up with routine tasks such as roll calls, homework checks and giving out assignments. "I'm still calling out things as they run out the door," she said.

"My concern is, is the school ready for it?" asked parent Anne Heidenreich, a kindergarten teacher at Fountain Green Elementary. "I have a student going in as a senior. I'm reluctant to let him be a guinea pig.

"It's a dramatic change. Are the teachers ready? Two years ago, they voted it down," she said.

At that time, Bel Air High teachers agreed that the four-class day would have to be approved by at least 75 percent of the faculty. But in the 1992 vote, only 66 percent approved it, which put the plan on hold.

This time, not all of the teachers voted on the proposal, Mr. Ekey said. He relied on the recommendations of the six-teacher school improvement team.

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