Carroll students give 4-period day high marks Names on honor roll grow at 3 county high schools

November 24, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Longer classes are the last thing Jennifer Banks would have asked for.

But that was a year ago.

The change to four 90-minute classes a day -- instead of the traditional seven 45-minute periods -- at three Carroll County high schools this year earns a resounding "Yes!" from the Francis Scott Key sophomore.

"I made honor roll for the first time in my whole life," Jennifer said. "I think I'm learning more and doing better work."

She's working harder than ever, she said. And she likes it.

Classes are twice as long as they used to be, but so is the honor roll at Key, Westminster and South Carroll high schools. Twice as many students as last year received straight A's.

Dena Mielke, a senior at Westminster, got straight A's for the first time since middle school. In her typically tough schedule of advanced math and science courses, she had always gotten one or two B's in each marking period.

With the new schedule, she said, "I even managed to get an A in calculus. I guess you focus more in your classes because you have fewer classes. I like it. In science research, you can glue something and have time for it to dry. But you should try sitting for 90 minutes of calculus. That's tough."

At an awards reception Tuesday, South Carroll Principal David Booz will honor students who received all A's. In previous years, the straight-A students were invited to leave class during their first period for a breakfast reception. Parents were invited, too.

This time last year, there were 112 such students. This year, 254 got straight A's in the first marking period.

"Now if I pull 250 kids out of class, that's a big hunk. I don't want to do that," Booz said.

Westminster High School had 57 straight-A students this time last year and 139 this year, Principal Sherri-Le Bream said, and attendance is up 1 percent. Key High officials did not have the exact numbers available, but Principal George Phillips said the number of straight-A students appears to have doubled.

All students and teachers interviewed said they didn't think the better grades came from teachers' easing up on students because of the change.

"There was nothing at all from the administration telling us to change our grading style," said Jim Torretti, a math teacher at South Carroll High School.

"I'm sure there are a few [teachers] who are making it as difficult as possible," Booz said.

Teachers and students say they have never worked harder. The day goes by quickly, they say, and they're exhausted by the end of it.

Teachers such as Richard Long at Key, in his 30th year, are

making the most dramatic change ever in their teaching style, incorporating more activities and making a point of having students get up and move around, such as to walk to the printer or to move desks into a circle for group work.

The teachers also say that the longer periods, combined with fewer classes, give them a better chance to focus.

"I believe we are covering material in a deeper sense," said Long, a business education teacher at Key who was among the most skeptical about the "four-mod" (short for module) day. "I don't believe we can cover as many topics, because children can only comprehend a number of facts in a given day.

"I think we'll find our children know what they are taught better, BTC but will they know as much? Only time will tell."

Concerns that less material can be covered and that a gap of a semester and a summer might be too long between language and math courses have kept faculty members at Liberty High School from changing their schedule.

Liberty is the only high school in the county that keeps the traditional seven-period schedule.

Even if the faculty wanted to change, crowding at Liberty might have made it impossible, Principal Robert Bastress said. Logistical details such as arranging enough lunch periods would have made a four-period day unworkable, he said.

Torretti said he has mixed feelings about the change at South Carroll.

The grades Torretti gave this October weren't much different from those in previous years, he said. They might be a little lower, he said, because more students of varying abilities are enrolled in advanced math classes that once were the domain of the brightest students. With the four-period day, students take eight courses a year instead of seven.

Being able to take more courses in a year is an advantage, Torretti said, but he wonders whether math students have enough time to digest a concept before moving on to the next.

"In the old days, they would have had time to do homework in the evening and digest that concept," Torretti said. "Now, you give them 10 minutes to practice that concept in class and move on to a new one."

As a result, some students need additional help, which is available in math clinics before and after school, he said.

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