Sunday, April 18, 2021
High School and Middle School Students to Stick to Four Days of Schooling
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Wood River High School and Middle School Wolverines will finish out the school year with Fridays free to do what they want with them.
   
Thursday, April 1, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

High school and middle school students in the Blaine County School District will not be returning to in-person school five days a week.

Instead, they will attend school four days a week for the remainder of the year, with Friday being a day they can seek personal help from teachers.

The Blaine County School Board voted 3-2 to stay in the current model Tuesday night. Trustees Lara Stone, Gretchen Gorham and Dan Turner voted to stay in the current four-day model. Trustee Amber Larna and chairman Keith Roark voted to return to a five-day-a-week schedule.

Acting Superintendent Fritz Peters said he favored a return to schooling five days a week as the only way the district could establish normalcy as it looks towards next fall. But, he said, the staff was not fully in favor of it except at Carey and Ernest Hemingway Steam School, and the students opposed spending five days a week in the classroom.

Trustee Lara Stone noted that students have already made a couple schedule changes this year. They started the school year with hybrid instruction that involved two days of in-person instruction and two days online and, just recently, began attending school four days a week. Continually changing schedules is a distraction for learning and a distraction for the staff, she said.

“If we were in October right now or even January, making a change might be something,” she said. “But we’ve only been in this latest schedule change for two weeks. So, we’re talking about making another big shift with only six or seven weeks of school left.”

Elementary school students will return to class five days a week beginning April 12. But secondary school teachers in secondary school want to use Fridays to help students with testing and classwork. Even some Advanced Placement students are using Fridays to meet with teachers to stay on top of their classes, noted Stone.

Peters said well over 200 high school kids are showing up on Fridays for help, and they’re not the same students every Friday.

“They are showing up time because they’re finding that time valuable. I don’t expect 800 or 900 to show up but even 200 is remarkable,” he said.

Peters added that students liked small classes with more personal attention from teachers when only half the students were in school at a time. They lost that when they returned to school four days a week and classes got bigger.

Board Chair Keith Roark said he gets it that teachers like to have a day for planning or that students can use that time to do work to keep from failing classes.

Yes, some students are benefitting greatly from “free Fridays,” he said. “But does that mean we’re going to close everything down for a day so 200 of a thousand students can have that time to get help? What about the other 800 kids? I’m not buying into the argument that these kids are so stressed they need a three-day weekend every week.”

Roark noted that just a few months ago that the board was getting excoriated by emails accusing trustees of ruining kids who needed to be in schools five days a week.

“Now, we’re hearing the opposite,” he added. “C’mon. We’re talking about student achievement. Fact is we have a significant number of students who are not receiving instruction on Friday. I also have trouble understanding why secondary teachers need a free Friday when elementary teachers do not.”

Peters has said repeatedly that lack of in-person learning affects elementary students most. There’s a lot of data that purports children who do not learn to read at grade level by the time they’re in third grade are sentenced to a lifelong struggle in reading and math, he said.  

He also noted that the return of students to four days a week has been “quite successful,” even though social distancing has been compromised as classrooms double in size and as students pass each other in the hallway or mix at lunch.

Students are still required to wear masks. And, even with the loss of some social distancing, there has not been a rise in teachers and students out of school due to COVID or having to quarantine, he said.

The number of teachers vaccinated has been very high, he added. “The vaccinations of teachers been a shot in the arm.”

 

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