For frisky students, a special place

March 12, 1995|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

Timeout rooms are becoming the norm in Carroll County Schools, with a pilot plan to put them into more buildings.

The proposed 1995-1996 budget proposal, yet to be approved by county commissioners, calls for $75,000 to hire instructional assistants to staff 10 such rooms: five in the county's elementary schools and five in the middle and high schools.

A timeout room is an alternative to student suspensions or, in the case of elementary schools, students being sent to the principal's office. Carroll schools still suspend students for fighting or for drug and alcohol violations, but the timeout room is a more creative response for less dangerous problems, officials said.

For example, "you might get middle school students who are involved in a pushing match in the cafeteria," said Peter B. McDowell, director of secondary education. "It's not a coming to blows, but it's beyond Mickey Mouse behavior."

In addition to using the timeout rooms, the schools will begin -- this spring or next fall -- a new Saturday School program called "Saturday for Conflict Management," also an alternative to suspension. Similar programs already exist for students who are caught smoking or skipping school.

Although timeout rooms are not new, they have traditionally been staffed by teachers on their duty periods. But the pilot program in the budget would provide money to staff the room with instructional assistants. "We want to use our teachers to teach," Mr. McDowell said. "We have a more difficult population [of students], and we feel we need additional options." The ideal, McDowell said, is to have some consistency -- the same assistant in the timeout room all day with a student, instead having of a parade of teachers spending an hour each there.

The instructional assistants that would be hired would be called "student monitors," he said. They likely would have some teaching experience or credentials: substitutes, student teachers or teachers who have not yet found professional positions.

All five Carroll high schools, most of the middle schools and a few elementaries have timeout rooms. Those that employ an assistant especially for that room, such as North Carroll High, Westminster High and Robert Moton Elementary, do so with a grant or by setting aside money from their discretionary budgets. But in next year's budget, the school board is offering money just for that purpose.

George Phillips, principal at Francis Scott Key, preferred not to wait until next year for a timeout assistant.

"As it is now, the teachers go in and baby-sit," he said.

Mr. Phillips said he found a way to shift money in his budget this year for one assistant to stay in the timeout room all day. He said he had about $2,500 in his budget this year for cafeteria assistants -- people who are hired to keep order in the cafeteria at lunchtime. But he couldn't find anyone to fill the jobs. So, by late winter, he asked Mr. McDowell if he could use the money to hire an assistant for the timeout room, instead.

The transfer of money was approved by the school board and county commissioners, and Mr. Phillips hopes to hire someone soon.

"We wanted to find some alternative to suspensions and a way for students to think about their actions," Mr. Phillips said. "Instead of being out of school, where they want to be, this will keep them in school.

"We also found that after-school detention was somewhat cumbersome and difficult to monitor," he said.

The timeout room also can be used for one or two periods, for a disruptive student to cool off so a teacher can continue teaching the rest of a class.

Instead of sitting idle in the office or at home under those circumstances, students can work in the timeout room. At Francis Scott Key High, Robert Moton Elementary and a few other county schools, the students are instructed to write about what they did, why it was wrong and how they can reform their behavior.

Mr. Phillips said parents have been supportive of the timeout room, and his staff developed a packet of short-answer and essay work that requires students to reflect on their behavior.

In one case, he said, he looked over a student's answers and wasn't satisfied. So, he made the student redo it.

"Then I talked to the parent and the parent said, 'It still isn't right.' "

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