Class periods stretch to 90 minutes Four courses a day is a timely trend at area high schools

November 26, 1997|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

More than half the 82 high schools in the Baltimore area have switched from six- or seven- to four-period days in recent years, and despite some drawbacks, many students and teachers are raving about schedules that offer a concentrated jolt of instructional time.

"You can be in class more and learn more, unlike at middle school where you had nine periods " said Mark Lukenich, 15, a sophomore at Atholton High School in Columbia. "And you remember it easier because you're doing it for longer."

The setup condenses a yearlong 45-minute-a-day course to one semester of 90-minute-a-day sessions. The change costs nothing unless more teachers are hired to cover the one course a year increase, from seven to eight courses per year.

Students say they like it -- of about 50 interviewed around the Baltimore area, only two said they didn't.

Seventy high schools statewide and 44 in Baltimore and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties have switched to four-period days. Chesapeake Senior High in Pasadena was one of the first to try four-period days in August 1993. Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick pioneered the schedule in Maryland in 1991.

At Chesapeake Senior on a recent school day, 24 students sat at their desks in upper-level biology between 12: 30 and 2 p.m., first supplying answers to questions from teacher Hank Gottlich about the movements of amoeba, grasshoppers, earthworms and octopuses, then filling in a work sheet on the human skeleton.

Some got up to sharpen pencils, get textbooks or talk. One student took off her shoes and put them back on, and repeatedly rearranged the ribbon in her hair. But mostly, Gottlich held their attention as he moved from the blackboard to an overhead projector to the back of the room to answer questions.

He's adjusted his teaching style and lesson plans for the longer classes. "No lectures," he said. "Have you ever seen a teen-ager sit for an hour and a half?" He mixes slides, magazine article research, videos, labs and data collection with weekly tests, twice-weekly quizzes and an outdoor break midway through the period on nice days.

"I think it's great because the time flies by, so it makes your day go really quick," said one student, Nick Patel, 14. "Because after two periods the day is already half over."

Shooting for straight A's

And the stars are closer to shoot for, according to freshman Keri Everhart: "If we're trying to get straight A's, you only have to get A's in four classes."

Student Kellie Lobaugh takes American government from 7: 30 until 9 each morning, intermediate French from 9 to 10: 30, typing from 10: 30 to 12: 30 -- with a half-hour off for lunch -- and finally biology. Come January, she'll take final exams in those classes and start on four different subjects.

"It really really gives us time to concentrate on what we're doing and actually learn, you know?" she said. In middle school, teachers would "write the agenda on the board and we never got to it."

Principal Harry Calendar, however, is disappointed that some seniors who already have accrued plenty of credits are using the schedule as a way to shorten their day by almost two hours. And the new schedule has not motivated students to go on to advanced language classes.

Most of the area schools that have gone to four periods, like Chesapeake, use a semester model. The end of a semester marks a changeover to a new slate of classes. Some schools, though, including eight of 10 high schools in Howard County and several in Baltimore County, have an A-day, B-day format.

On A-day, students have four 90-minute classes. The next day, B-day, they take four different classes. They alternate the two days all year long.

Ian Fitzhugh, a senior at Western High School for Technology and Environmental Science in Catonsville, has his schedule set up that way. On a recent morning, he blew into a straw, sending a stream of air onto a vertical line of black ink that he'd painted on a piece of paper.

The ink trailed into thin lines to make branches, part of a lesson on making Asian-inspired scroll art in his arts and artifacts class, a pilot art history course. It combines lessons on Chinese, Japanese, Islamic, Egyptian and Indian history, sociology and philosophy with studio art and art history.

The room fell quiet midway through the period as students grew absorbed with their work.

Ian Fitzhugh, who works 20 hours a week at Burger King, said that when he had seven classes a day in middle school, "sometimes it's hard to get all the homework done, especially if you have a part-time job." But now, because each class meets two or three days a week, he has more than one night to do homework.

He sat next to Mathew Hill, who has worked out a plan to keep from getting mixed up. "I have two separate sets of books," Hill said. "So I just alternate book bags." On "A" days he carries a blue bag; on "B" days a black one. "If I'm absent, I might get kind of mixed up" he said.

'Quality time'

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