Middle schools choose formats

Most pick 7-class day to include required gym, art for pupils

`A first-class education'

February 17, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Thirteen of Anne Arundel County's 19 middle schools will adopt a seven-period day this fall, ending an impassioned debate in the county over how to best serve the needs of adolescents.

The other six middle schools chose to adopt a four-period school day, officials announced last week.

This is a switch from the six-period day almost all middle schools use. They must change to comply with state requirements that children take physical education and fine arts every year - a rule that has been on the books for years but was not followed by Anne Arundel middle schools.

Parents and school officials have been debating schedule options since September, when the State Board of Education ordered the county to require gym and fine arts. The Anne Arundel board decided to allow principals to choose the schedule that best fit their school.

"The schools are putting in a plan that has the potential to provide a first-class education," said Terra Ziporyn Snider, a Severna Park parent who led a group that took the matter to the state board.

"The community is celebrating because they're starting to realize they can have an impact on what happens in the public schools," Snider said Friday.

The six middle schools opting for the four-period day are: Brooklyn Park, Central in Edgewater, Chesapeake Bay in Pasadena, George Fox in Pasadena, Marley in Glen Burnie and Old Mill-North in Millersville.

The other middle schools decided on seven periods, which their principals said was the overwhelming choice of parents, faculty and pupils. At Arundel Middle in Odenton, Principal Paul Strickler said all three groups were surveyed, and their preference was clear.

At that school, the seven-period day won with students by a vote of 444-88, with parents by a 45-2 margin, and with teachers by a 32-10 vote. Parents were particularly worried that children would get antsy during the 86-minute classes in a four-period day.

"They were concerned teachers would stand up there and lecture for 86 minutes," Strickler said.

At Corkran Middle in Glen Burnie, which went with the seven-period day, teachers didn't like the infrequency of class meetings under the four-period model, said Principal Chris Truffer.

On a four-period day, three of the four core academic classes meet every day, with the fourth dropping out in a rotation. And electives are taught on an A/B/C-day rotation, so students get each elective once every three days.

"Teachers had conceptual problems with an academic class dropping every day, and electives teachers had problems with continuity when they only saw their kids every third day," Truffer said.

Principals who chose the four-period day said that model, during the course of a year, provided children with more total time in academic courses. The longer class periods (86 compared with 47 minutes in the seven-period day) also allow for more hands-on learning activities, they said.

"My science department is chomping at the bit," said O. Fred Jenkins, principal of Central Middle, where teachers and parents reached a consensus in favor of four periods. "We do not believe we would accomplish our goals of active learning and challenging all students in the seven-period day because we believe it's too fragmented," he said.

Both models will increase average class size from this year's 29 students a class, according to school system projections. The four-period day would mean 30 children a class; the seven-period day would mean 32.

Interim Superintendent Kenneth P. Lawson and members of the school board have said they would lobby the county executive for an additional $3 million to hire 70 new middle school teachers to reduce class sizes.

Some of those teachers, if hired, would be needed to teach fine arts, gym and electives. The county will also need more reading teachers as the "Balanced Literacy" program expands to seventh grade this fall.

Begun in the sixth grade this year, that program provides students with two periods of language arts every day. Some parents protested the expanded reading instruction because it took time from electives, including gym and fine arts.

Both the four- and seven-period days provide children with more opportunities for electives than the six-period day.

The seven-period day allows the most time for electives - an important factor for some parents who didn't want fine arts and other courses sacrificed for reading lessons that they said are not needed by all students.

"This will allow for the development of an excellent middle school program and will preserve the courses we have worked so hard to save," Snider said.

School schedules

Anne Arundel County middle schools adopting a four-period day this fall:

Brooklyn Park

Central

Chesapeake Bay

George Fox

Marley

Old Mill-North

Schools with seven-period day:

Annapolis

Arundel

Bates

Corkran

Crofton

Lindale

MacArthur

Magothy River

Meade

Old Mill-South

Severn River

Severna Park

Southern

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