by Sweta Patel
I’m a teacher and also serve as a “Seniors Transitions Advisor” at a local alternative high school. This involves meeting with seniors one-on-one and talking about their plans for after high school and how to best support them. Often, I help our seniors with college and scholarship applications. There is one question that always makes them pause:
What extracurriclar activities have you participated in?
Now, when I see that question, I think about my 9 year old and 5 year old. Regularly, I find myself in the position of a taxi driver, stopping in front of art and dance studios, soccer fields, tennis courts, piano lessons…and the list goes on.
But for our seniors? They usually name classes or activities they participated in at some point during their time at our school:
I believe there is a population within all of our schools that doesn’t have access to these types of ‘extracurricular activities’ due to any number of factors, including financial constraints, transportation barriers, or needing to work after school.
And yet time spent in these activities often leads to feeling a sense of community and teamwork, learning a skill that may become a lifelong hobby, or even developing a sense of what career path we’d like to pursue.
At our school, as a staff, we agreed that this list of benefits is equally as important as our academic standards. They are not “extra” to us… They warrant being a part of our school curriculum and culture. We want our students to be exposed to a variety of new experiences so that they can identify new strengths and interests and carry them beyond graduation.
The Duiring-the-School-Day Solution
To that end, we completely overhauled how Wednesdays look at our school. On these days, we go by a different bell schedule and master schedule. Each teacher teaches 5 sections - advisory, academic help, and 3 seminars (single or a double block).
During advisory time, students spend an hour deepening their relationship with each other and their advisor. Advisors also use a part of this time to have one-on-one conversations with each advisee, following a set of weekly questions created by our social workers. Past topics include: goal-setting, healthy relationships, coping with stress, and self-talk.
During academic help time, we give students a built-in pause during the school week and use this time to re-teach concepts and help students one-on-one with assignments. This helps to prevent the end-of-the-quarter mad rush that often happens to catch up on the past 8 weeks’ worth of learning.
And during seminar time, teachers choose engaging experiences to offer students, such as:
At our school, we are on a 9-week quarterly system. We broke each quarter up into two rotations, consisting of 4 Wednesdays each. We call these our “Student-Centered Wednesdays” because the students get to self-select what their schedule looks like for each rotation. Some rotations, students might be heavy on academic help hours; and during others where they’re feeling academically strong, they might have one advisory period with 4 seminar experiences. Their schedules are centered around their learning needs.
Prior to Each Rotation
Rotations & Collaborations
While it’s definitely more work to be on this type of rotation system, we feel it’s necessary for the following reasons: Students can try out many different types of experiences throughout the year. Also, if they don’t end up liking an experience, they only have to make it through three more Wednesdays (same goes for the teachers!). But most importantly, it allows teachers to more easily partner with community organizations.
For example, for our Chess Seminar, we’re partnering with the Rochester Chess Club. One of their chess instructors comes out to teach our students, and they only have to commit to four Wednesdays at a time.
As we continue to reflect and revise what these Wednesdays look like, our hope is that we’ll eventually be able to take students to off-site trips (for example, hiking at Quarry Hill or volunteering at a care center). Right now, our experiences are all on-site.
Implement With Purpose
Some may argue that these types of experiences don’t belong within the school day, but at our school, we argue back: We all agree that extracurricular activities have value, but it’s a matter of access to these opportunities. Because our students can’t participate in after school activities, we’re trying to integrate these activities into their school day.
If you’re interested in doing something similar at school but can’t on this larger scale, one idea is to replicate it for the last week of each quarter or even a few days each quarter. You’ll be surprised by how many students as seniors will remember these experiences when it’s time to complete that “extracurricular activities” box on an application.
But there’s even a greater reason for more schools to jump in:
When I was younger, I took piano lessons, and this led me to introducing music into my daughter’s life. My husband played cricket and badminton, and he continues to play now as an adult as part of his fitness routine. My 9-year old daughter takes art and dance lessons, and through these, has developed dreams of selling her art one day and making it on the high school dance team. So many of us have these stories.
We’re hoping that through our Student-Centered Wednesdays, our students will generate similar stories of their own. A particular seminar just might change the trajectory of their life.
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