Education Beat: CHS to extend school hours for struggling students

CHS’ Pop Quiz/Scholastic Bowl team recently finished first nationwide in a field of 300 teams for the 3-2-1 Knowledge Competition. The accomplishment qualifies the team for this summer’s National Academic Championship. Photo: Tim Shea CHS’ Pop Quiz/Scholastic Bowl team recently finished first nationwide in a field of 300 teams for the 3-2-1 Knowledge Competition. The accomplishment qualifies the team for this summer’s National Academic Championship. Photo: Tim Shea

Some Charlottesville High School students are attending class at night, thanks to the extension of a supplemental learning program prompted in part by concerns over dropout and attendance rates.

The Work Achieves Lasting Knowledge Program (WALK), which began in 2007, and which helped 82 CHS students earn diplomas in the 2012-13 school year, is an alternative learning initiative aimed at assisting students who are struggling to meet graduation requirements. Since its inception, about 1,200 eligible students have met with teachers and WALK tutors during school hours. Those hours have now been extended to Tuesday through Thursday evenings, from 4:30 to 7pm.

The extension comes on the heels of a 6.7 percent drop in Charlottesville High School’s graduation rate, which fell to 80.6 in 2013. The statewide graduation rate was 89.1 percent. The division’s dropout rate rose from 6.2 to 10.2 percent in 2013 as well.

“We’re looking at the dropout rate and some of our students who have attendance issues,” Associate Superintendent Gertrude Ivory said about extending the hours. “We’re trying to remove some of the barriers for some of our students.” Those barriers, Ivory said, range from a lack of daycare for a student’s child, to difficulty adjusting to a traditional classroom, to trauma, to balancing a job with high school courses.

The majority of WALK students attend CHS full-time, but are at risk of failing required courses or dropping out of school. Additionally, school officials hope that the evening hours attract recent dropouts and 16- to 18-year-olds who are a year behind in school and want to pursue a GED. Teachers or counselors will refer a student to WALK when he or she is failing a course required for graduation, and teachers and tutors then work intensively to help students complete those courses.

The first goal, said WALK Executive Director Dianna Poe, is for the student to remain in the traditional classroom while receiving tutoring. But some students end up completing the course they are struggling with entirely through the program. In these cases, the students use Apex Learning, a provider of online courses aligned with Virginia’s Standards of Learning. Poe said the students benefit from the additional support, and that the tutors and teachers are skilled in building personal relationships with the students.

At the December 12 school board meeting, member Jennifer McKeever argued that holding additional school hours undermines the message that coming to school on time is important, but Charlottesville Superintendent Rosa Atkins said WALK students would still be expected to attend traditional school hours.

This is not the first time CHS has hosted students outside of traditional school hours. In 2007-08, students could attend school onweekdays, Saturdays, and some Sundays.

As for now, Poe is focused on meeting the needs of students. “The beauty of WALK is that we change with the kids we have that year,” she said. “One year I’ve got more teenage moms, one year I’ve got this or that. Kids are fluid, life is fluid, so we change for what the needs are.”

County Student Advisory Council sets spring agenda

The county’s Student Advisory Council told the Albemarle County School Board Thursday that in the coming months, the group wants to address two topics that have generated a lot of interest in the last year: how technology is integrated into classrooms and how course grades are weighted.

Topping the council’s list of concerns about device integration was how an over-reliance on technology can hinder student-teacher relationships. Albemarle Assistant Superintendent Billy Haun said the division is creating a digital curriculum to help teachers use devices more effectively, and is conducting readiness surveys to gauge the amount of professional development needed.

The council also said many students questioned the school board’s recent vote not to reevaluate the division’s grade-weighting process, and said they would like to research the topic further. Board member Eric Strucko supported the move, and board member Steve Koleszar encouraged the council to provide input whenever it thought the board had made a misstep.

James Merritt. Photo: Tim Shea


James Merritt, Child Nutrition, Walker Upper Elementary School

How do you support student learning from outside the classroom?

At Walker, the kids are learning to use the bell system, which requires personal responsibility for being in the right place when the bell rings. If I notice a child that is late, I explain how important it is to be in class on time, ready for the day. I also encourage students to grab a breakfast since the first meal of the day is the most important.

What’s the most common misconception about your job?

Most think that as nutritional workers, we are strictly responsible for the meals that come out of the kitchen, but cooking is just one part of what we do. We interact with the students to ensure that all students’ accounts have funds, to make sure everyone is staying safe, and to make sure that children are not exposed to any food that they may be allergic to. We want to see all students succeed at all levels.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?

Getting the students to eat their two meals (breakfast and lunch) can be difficult. At this age (fifth and sixth grade), kids definitely know exactly what they like and what they do not like. We serve a wide variety of options for our vegetarians and picky eaters.

Why did you choose to perform your job in the schools and not in another sector?

I’ve worked in a number of fields, but the feeling you get when seeing these children’s faces every morning tops any other job. Knowing that I have a part in their success makes me and the whole staff work even harder. Creating good student relationships leads to trust and respect. We enjoy the students’ company in the cafeteria.

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