If you take a stroll through Sauk Prairie High School this year between 9:15 and 10:28 in the morning, you’ll see more students interacting in small groups with their teachers than ever before in the history of the school.
In the past, study halls were scheduled throughout the day, varying student by student, and it was hit or miss whether they aligned with a teacher’s availability. “We wanted a schedule where all teachers would have access to kids,” said Sauk Prairie High School Principal Chris Grinde.
About 18 months of planning culminated when school began this year and administrators made third period an open study hall for all students while simultaneously freeing up the teachers of the core curriculum — science, English, social studies and math — to meet with them.
The change comes after a series of significant, long-term changes at the high school that include overhauling the curriculum, making detailed class descriptions available online and emphasizing teacher collaboration to ensure all subjects teach and test the same material.
Now third hour is called the “academic resource period,” or ARP for short, and is reserved exclusively for teachers to meet with students. “It’s not just for kids who are struggling, but for kids doing really well who want to continue doing really well,” Grinde said.
The change wasn’t easy or without resistance. First, administrators had to decide what hour to reserve for a school-wide study hall. Grinde said administrators met with a nationally-renowned expert on school schedules who advised that the ARP needed to occur when students were in the building to take advantage of it.
Grinde said that ruled out the first hour and the last hour of the school day as well as any that overlapped with lunch, which might tempt students to take an extra-long afternoon repast. So that left third hour, squarely in the mid-morning.
During a recent Monday during ARP, in nearly every room students were studying or meeting with teachers. Science teacher Laura Lang was meeting with a half dozen students from her physics classes.
She said ARP is perfect for allowing kids who miss a day to catch up. “It’s nice, kids who are absent, it’s frustrating because they don’t just miss my class, they miss everyone’s,” she said. Scheduling that many make-up exams and work is difficult when there are multiple schedules involved, and Lang said it quickly can lead to a student falling behind.
Students who do fall behind and are failing classes are assigned a teacher for ARP who acts as a liaison between them and their other teachers, coordinating their curriculum and monitoring their progress.
Now Grinde said if kids are failing a class, teachers have time during the school day to get them back into the classroom for extra instruction. During ARP, juniors and seniors can begin the hour in the commons, the library, computer labs or the classroom of the teacher they need to meet.
Freshmen and sophomores have to first check in with their assigned teacher for study hall, and after attendance they can go see another teacher. With all this chaotic moving from classroom to classroom, Grinde some teachers worried about attendance and having to write countless hall passes.
“We just did away with passes,” Grinde said. For instance, in the commons where the majority of the juniors and seniors go, each student checks in with an electronic keypad using a four-digit number. Grinde acknowledges it wouldn’t be difficult for students to take advantage of the system, but it places more faith in the students.
“Be responsible,” Grinde said. “Be where you say you’re going to be and don’t wander around.”
And, overall, the experiment seems to be working.
“I was skeptical at the beginning, but it’s definitely working out better than I thought it would,” said Todd Breunig, a physical education teacher. He monitored the commons where dozens of students sat during ARP. It was loud, but the majority of the students appeared to be studying or engaged in homework.
On his desk, Grinde has a stack of reports from teachers on their ARP hours and how many students they’re seeing every month. More than one teacher had met with as many as 400 students. He said he recently received an email from a social studies teacher who wrote, “I’ve helped more kids today than I did all of last year.”
In order for ARP to work, nearly all the teachers had to agree that their resource period would take place in third hour. In the past, that was a time when most teachers could get caught up on work or lesson planning. “Teachers work hard, and now they’re working even harder,” Grinde said.
But, he said, the school has managed to institute ARP without cutting into classroom instruction or reducing the number of electives.
“My definition of success is exactly what you saw when you were walking around,” Grinde said. “That’s the biggest reason for doing this, so kids have access to teachers and teachers have access to kids.”