Friday, September 27, 2013

Help! My Child has Three Study Halls!

Portersville Christian School’s middle and high school uses a nine period daily class schedule.  This works well in a small school in which teachers have multiple preps, sometimes in more than one subject area, and where there are some staff members with both elementary and high school teaching responsibilities, such as PE and music. This helps with scheduling.  And since our school is committed to exceeding state academic standards, a nine period schedule allows us to set the requirements for graduating from high school at a higher level, and leave room in the student schedule to get all of the required coursework in a four year period. 

As you can imagine, with the school day divided into nine periods, the actual time students spend in class will be about 40 minutes, which means that the extended time for guided and independent practice will be shortened.  That's why we have study halls.  They are built into the schedule to allow students to have guided practice time with a teacher in the room to provide assistance, and for independent practice.  With a Monday-Friday, Tuesday-Thursday format for elective courses and P.E., that means most students will have between 2 and 3 study halls a day, which averages out to about 80 minutes for guided and independent practice.  That's about what they would have at the end of each class if they were on a block schedule.  Study halls are NOT "free periods."  They are to be used in the same way that time left over in class would be used after the teacher has taught the objective. 

Students are required to take courses in the core subject areas of history, math, science, English and Bible, and supplemental courses in Computer Applications, Physical Education and Foreign Language.  That’s seven classes, with PE being offered two periods per week.  Depending on the electives, and the grade level, that leaves from two to three periods a day open.  So in order to meet the state instructional time requirement, those periods are scheduled as study halls.  The academic rigor of the curriculum at PCS is such that a student wisely using study hall time will not have any trouble finding enough work to do.

In order to qualify as instructional time, a study hall must be monitored and supervised by a teacher to make sure that students are involved in guided or independent practice (doing homework assignments) or are using the study hall time to prepare for tests or complete class projects.  This is the same sort of activity in which they would be engaged if they were in a class period of 60 or 70 minutes in a block schedule, the only difference being that they have changed classrooms, and are not necessarily with one of their core subject instructors. 

Teachers who are assigned to supervise study halls are given a specific list of instructions regarding the way the class is to be managed.  The expectation is that the study hall will provide an atmosphere that is conducive to study, and that the teacher will check to see that the students are spending the majority of their time on academic work.  If a student utilizes his “independent practice” time in study hall, grades will show improvement and the amount of homework he brings home will be noticeably reduced.

Both the objectives of individual courses, and the coursework requirements for graduation from PCS exceed the standards set by the state department of education.  In addition to the Bible class requirement, students at PCS are required to take one extra year of science, math, social studies and foreign language in order to graduate.  So having two or three study halls per day is not a problem, as long as students are assisted in the management of their time by the teachers, and encouraged by their parents.  Your help, and support of this arrangement, is crucial to its success.

 

 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Desired Student Outcomes: Assessing Progress and Measuring Success

The title phrase sounds like a lot of "education-ese," language which has a specific meaning for people who are involved in education.  There's a lot of terminology related to the field of education which has to be translated for those who are not involved in it as a career.  A "Desired Student Outcome" is what you want a student to be able to do with the skills they have been taught in a particular class.  One of the most popular ways to assess progress and measure success is to administer a test, hoping that the student has prepared for it, knows the objectives and is able to demonstrate his ability to put to use what he knows. 

It might be hard to pick out the potential doctors, or chemical engineers, or architects in a junior high life science or mathematics class, but the fact of the matter is that several of the students in any given group will someday achieve those career goals.  It will be inside one of their classrooms, at some point during their school experience, where their interest will be guided by their success, and from that beginning point, they will make a determination that will lead them to their career goal.

It is important to us, at Portersville Christian School, for students to have the academic success and the tools they need in the classroom to have the kind of experience that leads them toward a career goal that they have chosen because their interest and aptitude has led them in that direction.  Those are powerful motivators, and I believe God directs the circumstances of their lives in order to get those sparks going.  But it is more important to us for our students to prepare themselves for a ministry through the body of Christ, which will last for their lifetime.  Remaining faithful and committed to Jesus, and serving him through his church is our highest priority, and our most desirable student outcome.

What got me thinking along these lines was the fact that this is our fiftieth anniversary.  Yesterday, there were 24 Christian school administrators on our campus for a meeting, and out of the schools represented, there were only three that had been around longer than us.  Each year, there's been a group of students who have graduated from here, and it is those students who provide us with the assessment of our progress and the measure of success in achieving our desired outcome.

There are three graduating classes to whom I have handed a diploma since becoming administrator here, a total of 55 students, the oldest of whom are now juniors in college.  The record they are writing for themselves is a good one.  Many of them are at Christian colleges like Geneva, Grove City, Liberty, Cedarville, Houghton, and Moody Bible Institute, preparing for a vocation in Christian ministry or missions, or a service related occupation.  Many others are at state universities like Pitt, or Slippery Rock, or Robert Morris, or Carlow, or at junior colleges like BC3, living for Christ, setting an example for their peers, and preparing for some sort of service career.  It isn't easy to live a Christian life among your peers while you are in college these days.  But most of these students are following in the footsteps of their PCS predecessors, and they are pressing on toward the prize.

There are, in fact, hundreds of PCS graduates scattered all over the area, and over Western Pennsylvania, and if you find one, the chances are good that they are serving the Lord through their local church, involved in leadership, or in vocational Christian service.  I frequently encounter pastors and other church staff leaders who graduated from here.  There are also a lot of PCS grads on the mission field. One of our graduates was awarded the highest ethics award given by Duquesne University in 2013.  And a lot of our alumni have their children enrolled here.  Those are all measurements of progress and success.

We have received a good score on our achievement test....