School board hears united front against Arundel 6-period day

But equal support voiced for other two options for middle school schedule

January 15, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County parents, teachers and pupils delivered a clear message last night to a school board that must figure out a new middle school schedule for the fall: The six-period day has got to go.

But they were divided on what should replace it.

To meet a state order that all middle school pupils take physical education, health and fine arts every year, the county school board is weighing three schedule options: a day of four, six or seven periods.

At a public hearing last night, 15 people spoke in favor of a four-period day and 15 in favor of a seven-period day. No one spoke for the six-period day now used by almost all of the county's 19 middle schools.

For many, the issue turned on how many elective courses children will be able to take under each option. Several parents said middle school is the best time for their children to take courses beyond the core academic ones.

"Middle school students need to be exposed to a broad range of subject areas to expand their horizons and to take chances without risking long-term consequences," said Steven Thompson, who has children at Meade Middle School. "At this time in their lives, breadth of exposure is more important than depth."

But many people who spoke in favor of the four-period day said its most appealing feature is the longer class periods. With its 86-minute sessions, the four-period day allows teachers to explore subjects in depth and leaves time for group work and individual attention, teachers and parents said.

"The more time a student can spend receiving instruction and participating with others, the better the learning experience is for them," said Jeff Fisher, who has two children at Brooklyn Park Middle School.

That school has run on a four-period day for two years, and teachers and pupils raved about it last night.

"The four-period day gives my classmates and I the opportunity to have more fun and enjoyment in our classes," said Lindsey Hall, a sixth-grader at Brooklyn Park. "It gives me more time to study and get individual help from my teachers."

Interim Superintendent Kenneth P. Lawson has asked the board to choose one of the three options at its meeting on Jan. 23:

A six-period day, with each class running 55 minutes. Sixth-graders take two periods of reading every day, but seventh- and eighth-graders do not. Besides the required physical education course, pupils can take up to five electives per year, one of which must be a fine art. (Many electives run just one semester and alternate daily.)

A seven-period day, with each class running 47 minutes. Sixth- and seventh-graders take two periods of reading every day. Besides physical education, pupils can take up to seven electives per year.

A four-period day, with classes running 86 minutes each. All students have an extended reading period every day. Besides physical education, pupils can take up to four electives per year. The electives would meet every third day and run for a semester, except for foreign language and band, which would run all year.

The county is making a change by state order and under state supervision. Last fall, the State Department of Education found the county was violating a state regulation that requires all middle-schoolers to take physical education, health and fine arts every year. Anne Arundel has been offering those courses as electives.

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