A winter school program is beginning this semester at WHRHS, as an alternative to summer school for some students who are falling behind.
“Winter school is basically the idea of taking summer school and moving it into the winter to head off a student failing midway through the year who has no light at the end of the tunnel, so that at the end of the first semester they know they are pretty much sunk for the year,” Principal Dr. Christopher Jones.
Teachers and departments have selected the most important benchmarks for subject mastery and put them into a computer-based program for curriculum for credit recovery courses. The more specific course helps students move from a failing grade to a 60 — the lowest possible passing grade for a course.
“The whole idea is they get the concepts they need to be able to be successful in the second semester, because if you fail the first half of biology, odds are, you’re not going to pass the second half,” he said. “We are already loaded up and set to go with 44 students and three coordinators.”
It retains the integrity of the grade because students are required to pass the concepts the school requires in a course. Summer school, which can be taken in other school districts may not always achieve that.
Jones said that, while it is not easy, about 92 percent of the students taking winter school in his former district passed for the year and did not have to attend summer school.
The program is done after school, with coordinators required to unlock access to pre-tests and assessments. Secure browsers prevent them from finding answers elsewhere online.
“There is no financial impact,” Jones said. “It’s a self-funding program.”
Each student pays $50 to participate to take winter school, significantly less than summer school, and may take two courses because the fee is for entrance and not levied per course.
“Right now, we’re seeing a profit, which I don’t like,” Jones said. “I’m not looking to make money off of this, I’m looking to self-fund a program that is to help students succeed.”
The three hours per week required for the program must be arranged between the student and the coordinator.
“I like the innovation of it,” Committee member Robert Trotta said. “People are thinking of ways to improve things, especially for our students. … I think this is what education is all about, to look at what you have and to change things, if necessary, for students to enjoy success.”
“The accessibility of this program for the kids is awesome and the innovative nature is very encouraging,” member Chris Scriven agreed.
W-H Regional High School is also working to make summer reading more enjoyable for students with the inauguration of the Summer Reading Smack Down.
Partly an exercise in NCAA March Madness Bracketology, partly the PBS Great American Read, it’s a project that invites all high school students and staff to propose titles for the one book all students will be required to read as part of the summer reading list.
Jones said the idea is to promote summer literacy by offering an opportunity for students to help select a book they may actually read.
Students and faculty are asked to take suggested books out, fill out a 1-to-5 rating on a book mark survey and a committee will select a book in April.
The titles will be placed in a March Madness-type bracket with a panel of mostly students — and some staff — selecting “winners” in each bracket, based on 30-second pitches for each book.
“Everybody votes as to which book moves forward,” Jones said. Interdisciplinary days based on the selected book will kick off the school year in August — for example if the book, “Code Name Verily,” about female British pilots during WW II, is chosen, a math department could talk about codes, history classes could focus on the historical aspects of the book and a science class could focus on flight instruments.
“Isn’t it nice to do something that’s awesome instead of talking about budgets and negativism,” School Committee Chairman Bob Hayes said.
“I love this idea,” member Alexandria Taylor said. “I love to read … [but] summer reading killed me. I hated it. I hate being told to read a book that I’m not interested in, so I love the idea that you’re getting students involved in choosing a book.”
“Reading should not be punitive,” Jones concurred. “We talk about helping our teachers work. This idea was brought up in the English Department.”
Program of studies
Jones also outlined a revised program of studies that shifts 21 courses to keep pace with changed in curriculum programs. For example, Intro to TV and Radio Production has been changed to Video Production as television and radio “becomes outdated,” as well as changes to math programs such as courses that prepare students for AP Calculus. The School Committee approved the changes.
School Choice was also approved for 20 freshmen and 20 sophomore students — and upper classmen whose families have moved out of district and want to stay at W-H through graduation — again for the 2019-20 school year. Approval is an annual requirement for the program to continue. There are now 62 students attending the high school through the school choice option, some from other towns, but most are those whose families moved and they want to stay and graduate from WHRHS, Superintendent Jeffrey Szymaniak said.
Last year 20 freshmen and 20 sophomores were approved.
“We did not hit those numbers,” Szymaniak said. The average school choice student brings $5,000 into the district and those with IEPs can mean from $15,000 to $18,000 to the district’s coffers.
“That doesn’t drain programs, it’s special education services we already provide,” Szymaniak said.
District Business Manager Christine Suckow confirmed that the school choice program has enabled the district to hire six teachers, funded through the program.
The school will also be taking part in a state DESE Youth Risk Behavior Survey at the high school among freshmen and sophomores, referring them to the school adjustment counselors for some further discussions.
“This survey gives us information on substances and different things that students are exposed to,” Jones said.
Information gleaned provides a picture on substance use and frequency and social-emotional issues. At a certain threshold of affirmative answers, the student is referred to an adjustment counselor for further discussion and/or alternative treatment.
“The only hitch with that is that [adjustment counselors] can’t necessarily divulge that information to the parents,” Jones said. “It’s really having the kids in an anonymous or confidential atmosphere.”