Enrichment Based Summer School Work Morphs into AP Course Prep

Enrichment Based Summer School Work Morphs into AP Course Prep

Yesterday was August fifth! I honestly do not know where this summer has gone!  In the past, during most summers, I kept my boys busy with enrichment exercises to prevent what is commonly known as the summer slide. When they were younger this meant involvement in the library reading program, tracking all the books they read over the summer and working on comprehension strategies. It also meant travel journals, extra math problems, and some work on grammar and conventions, playing Geo-Bee, and reading up on some history as we visited places like Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Gettysburg, Williamsburg, Colorado, and Niagara Falls.  In fact, only a few short years ago my boys were writing letters and/or post cards to their grandparents and cousins several times during the summer. These were written as much to stay in contact as they were to practice writing skills.

Some years, even as recently as last year, courses were taken. The courses taken over the summer months at our house have been primarily math related. There was a Math Counts Prep Course and Pre-calculus through Johns Hopkins. And, a very long time ago, Geometry through an online platform called Aleks, as well as Health via K12. This was in addition to experiences with the Rosetta Stone software, 3D printer software, CNC machine software, raspberry pi, a drone and some other miscellaneous online courses. My oldest even took a few language courses through Corsera.

One thing is for sure, we are a family that likes to learn! My husband can often be found listening to continuing education online or laughing through a tutorial on the restoration of old trucks on YouTube. And, as for myself, the fact that the end of my coursework for a second master’s degree is nearing, tells it all. I can be found reading, writing papers, developing curriculum, and occasionally complaining about it. But, deep down, I love it!

This is the first summer I can remember when someone was not off at camp or taking an online course.  Three summers were spent at engineering camps. Two through Michigan Tech University and one through the University Wisconsin at Platteville.  Neither University won over my son’s choice to attend as instead he will proceed into the engineering program in yet another state later this month. Regardless, they were both great learning experiences! Last summer my engineering camper was chosen to attend Badger Boys Camp which is a leadership camp in our state.  It also was a great experience in which he was honored to take part. He enjoyed running for an elected office, as he went for the brass ring of  being selected as governor. And, although he did not win, there was much merit in the experience. In the more distant past, there was a year of music camp attended by musicians who were selected through auditions to be part of an elite state honors band in Wisconsin. Summer learning took place through all these camp experiences as well.

And, once our district began to offer enrichment for TAG students at the middle school level during the summer a few years ago, my youngest was a reluctant participant. But, I felt it was nice to see something offered for students that was not just remediation. There is a small proportion of students who are engaged in learning all year and something should be offered that is interesting for them as well. Don’t you agree?! Learning without the pressure of grades or credits can re-motivate and re-introduce students to the joy of learning. I’ve seen this time and time again.

But, here we are nearing the end of summer already and instead of summer enrichment coursework being over for the students in my house, it is just beginning.  Several AP classes at our high school come with pre-school year prep work. While some families and even teachers might take issue with this, I do not. I really cannot differentiate from what I asked my students to do over the summer months and these packets of prep work for their upcoming AP classes at the high school this school year. The work will slowly get them back into the groove of studying before actually sitting in the class. It will re-waken their foggy summer brains that have been solely focused on soccer balls, art projects, and get together’s with friends. I see nothing wrong with it. In fact, my youngest, who is starting his AP prep work for Chemistry once told me he’d prefer year round school. Surely, that is a topic for another post, but I can relate. Learning never really stops, not for summer and not for aging. If the teachers want to ask the students do some summer prep work, it’s alright by me – after all, it is exactly what I’ve asked of them myself since they were small.

Inefficiency in High School Scheduling

Inefficiency in High School Scheduling

The high school schedule during the last two weeks has been extremely frustrating. While the cancellation and rescheduling of things like our Spring athletic code meeting, an early release and a late start all due to weather are understandable, the seemingly continual changes made to class schedules are not.

A state bound wrestling team, term two recognition ceremony, winter sports recognition, guest speakers on school culture, character development, the monthly early release day for staff development, and more all contribute to schedule changes that mean shortened classes for students and less time for instruction.

Last year, a daily advisory period  was instituted. Although I might get some argument, I liken this to a homeroom period (which we do not have now). Previously, homeroom was held about once a month or whenever there was a need to conduct something with the masses. As I understand it, due to the increased need for students to have a period in the day when visits to teachers for extra help or to retake a test could be scheduled, as well as any “mass” filling out of forms, character instruction, or entire study body assembly attendance, the daily advisory period was born. Let me be clear, I think it is good to have this period. However, I do not think it is being used as intended. It has become a catch-all for whatever non-academic student event is dreamed of. There have been so many such events in the last two weeks, that my sophomore, who needs to retake a AP Calculus AB chapter exam has yet to be able to schedule it. He and the teacher have agreed a number of times on a day, using the advisory period, only to have it be impossible for him to attend due to some required time in advisory – for a non-academic reason.

If the advisory period is to help students get extra help, see a teacher for clarification, run to the library for a book, extra reference, or to print an assignment, or meet with other students to work on projects, it is failing miserably. The only thing it is succeeding at is interrupting the school day with non-essential assemblies, and form completion. I do not even think it is succeeding at the character development because the students (my students) are so resentful of the time they need to give up, many of the well-intended messages do not get through.

I find my students studying for tests thinking they will take them in advisory, only to find out their efforts to go over previous work, learn it better or more thoroughly and schedule the time with the teacher doesn’t pay off because they are told they “need” to stay in advisory. This was the case yesterday for my sophomore.  He was not released by his advisory teacher to go and re-take the calculus exam because he had to stay for some forum. I do not even know what it was about, it just angered me.  We are sending the wrong message to our students and it is this: academics come last. Every speaker, every assembly, every form, every sports team recognition, and every character building activity comes before academics. It is wrong!

Last week, our juniors all took the ACT test. The state of Wisconsin now pays for that test for all juniors. It is given during the school day.  No longer do students follow a prescribed freshman, sophomore, junior, senior course load. Students of all grades are in all classes from AP all the way through the tech labs like CAD.  The classes are mixed, as students choose what they take to fill their schedule. This creates a problem when the junior class is “out of commission” for a day or two to take a mass administered exam.

The same day the sophomores had field trips scheduled to visit various area college campuses. And, from what I heard, the freshmen had a different field trip that day. That left our senior class with an altered schedule that turned out to be worthless. Lessons on mindfulness, college prep, and movie watching is what was offered. It was really a waste for those students (of which I had one) and poorly orchestrated.  So much more could have been done with that time. It seems to me that the senior class got overlooked. Teaching could not take place because many of the classes were missing so many students due to testing and field trips that covering any new curriculum was a complete impossibility.  What really bothered me was that the night before this happened, we attended parent-teacher conferences, and no one mentioned this at all! It took our senior telling us about the crazily altered schedule later that night.

I think our administration feels it is doing a good job. But, it is all these little things – and the ever-increasing altered schedules, loss of instructional time, and building resentment among students and parents that proves otherwise. School is a lot of things, and rapidly becoming a place to try to instill too many things, but formal schooling is for learning. Currently, there are many missed opportunities to allow our students to be successful at the one thing they supposed to attend school to attain: an education.

The last time I wrote a post expressing my opinion about my own experience, it landed me in trouble with some district staff. I realize it could happen again. But, you know, I stand for the students and what is going on is not of benefit to them.

I am participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge sponsored by TwoWritingTeachers. For 31 days in March, participants blog a “slice” from their life and share it. It is my second year of participation in this challenge that includes a wonderfully supportive community of writers. Thank you for the opportunity, TwoWritingTeachers

Senior Year: It Started Before Now

Senior Year: It Started Before Now

This past week was the first of many senior meetings for us. We were filled in on what our student needs to be doing to get ready for his time after high school and in selecting a college.

We have been through all this before, as we have an older son. However, it has been some years. Our oldest son has already finished college and is now a graduate student. He finished high school in a non-traditional way – via an online platform – due to needing more challenge than our resident district was able to provide.  Still, as a student who was allowed to continue to play in the local high school band and participate in theatrical performances, we took advantage of attending the “get ready” meetings our resident district offered at the time, as well.

However, as most seasoned parents know, each student is different. And, in addition to the student differences, our guidance department has completely changed as well in the time that has elapsed since we attended these meetings with our oldest son. Even the name has been changed from Guidance Office to Student Services. Go Figure! I still am not sure of the reason for that.  All of these reasons served as our impetus to attend this meeting.

So, Monday night, off we went. The meeting was short. References were made back to the “junior meeting” of last spring on a number of occasions. Of course, we attended that, too.  However, it made me feel for those who had not.  The meeting was poorly attended. This was something we did not understand.  But, with a little more conversation, it was realized that no reminders were given to students about either the meeting date or time, and need to be there.  It was only because I put the date on our calendar that I knew we needed to attend. The date was sent out with registration materials in the summer. Still, several parents, myself included, wondered why the students were not reminded about this important meeting. It was on the day’s announcements on the high school website, but other than that, there was no reminder of any kind.

We really did not need to attend. Even though my student is different from my first, the college application process has not changed all that much. The biggest difference is that the FAFSA applications should now be done in October, at your earliest convenience, rather than waiting until the spring prior to high school graduation.  At our insistence, our senior is actually ahead of the curve, with two college applications completed – one offer of admission and one institutional academic scholarship being confirmed, as well.  With the exception of his AP test scores needing to be sent to one of the institutions, he has little left to do. Except keep looking – or not. The decision is his. I do think there is a little pressure removed for him by having been accepted at one of his two top university choices.

But, again, the focus was on what has not been done by students and/or families, not who has been efficient and started this process already. I think this focus needs to change. I was secretly hoping the guidance counselors would ask if anyone had completed applications already or heard of acceptances from colleges. Of course, they did not. I have been careful to offer sincere and well deserved praise to my senior for having much of what he needs done, be done so early in the year. I wish his counselors knew of this expediency. Again, the focus is on those who are not as organized, leaving little room for time, praise, or recognition for those who are.

One thing is for sure, the year will go very fast. And, maybe that is a good thing for us all.