Changing my mind on high school recess
Julia Staron was not sure what to do when, during her sophomore year at West Springfield High School, she was diagnosed with a chronic illness. Her hard work had made her a straight-A student, but much of her time would now be filled with medical appointments.
West Springfield’s new plan for more catching-up time, adopted in similar ways by other Fairfax County high schools, saved her. With two extra 45-minute free periods each week, she made up missed tests, finished homework and could still participate in after-school drama productions.
Staron is among many West Springfield students happy with what they call “Spartan Time,” in honor of the school mascot. But she and others were unhappy with me for dumping on the idea in a recent column. I reported teacher Ed Linz’s campaign against the program. He called it recess and said it wastes time, rewards sloth and hurts teachers throughout the county.
Linz calculated that Spartan Time consumed the equivalent of 10 school days a year. It made it harder, he said, for physics teachers such as him to stay on schedule. In his view, too many students used the time to chat with friends or watch television in the cafeteria (a special privilege extended to about 600 West Springfield students who qualify for the honor roll).
Linz and I were dismissed by many students as out-of-touch geezers who don’t understand how much more is demanded of high school students these days. Having read their many e-mails, I think they have a point.
U.S. high school students on average don’t do much schoolwork and have not had significant gains in reading or math achievement in the past 30 years. But Fairfax County and most other school districts here are not average. Staron works much harder on her studies than I ever did, and more than the typical American teen does now.
Fairfax County’s extra periods are an innovative response to the pressures of state testing and competition for admission to top colleges. Teachers and parents told me they help keep kids sane and productive. There are similar programs in other area districts.
Joanna Lewton said the STEP program at Wilson High School in the District allows her son to attend club meetings or just get a breather in the middle of the day. Traci Barela said her daughter, a junior at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax County, has “the chance to do homework and also then get help” with difficult parts of an assignment.
At Fairfax County’s Oakton High School, math teacher Becky Lyon said she has 30 extra minutes some days to present and explain an Advanced Placement calculus free-response question from a previous exam.
Not everyone is happy about the new periods. Martha Somers, who teaches in a Loudoun County high school with a program similar to Spartan Time, said the “vast majority of students do nothing during that time whether they should be or not.”
Cole Gould, a junior at West Springfield, was one of the few students rejecting Spartan Time. Students who use it properly, he said, would have found other ways to catch up on work. He recommended the extra periods be eliminated to make room for a more important reform: a later opening bell. That would help the students in his first two periods who “doze off and fall asleep,” he said.
One of the purposes of the extra periods is to give teachers more time to work with struggling students. Linz said many of the students needing help don’t show up for such tutoring.
I understand that problem but see a different solution: Get their names and get them to class. Why deny the extra time to students such as Staron who use it responsibly?
Keeping appointments is a useful habit in the outside world. Making sure students are doing what they are supposed to be doing during Spartan Time might be a good start.
| February 23, 2011; 10:49 PM ET
Categories: Local Living | Tags: Becky Lyon, Cole Gould, Ed Linz, Joanna Lewton, Julia Staron, Martha Somers, Spartan Times, Traci Barela, West Springfield High School, high school recess
Save & Share: Previous: The dangers of expelling kids in trouble
Next: 'Pathway to Prosperity' authors educate me
Posted by: Wyrm1 | February 23, 2011 11:08 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: DrStager | February 24, 2011 12:44 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: MisterRog | February 24, 2011 5:34 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: pdexiii | February 24, 2011 7:37 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: sopranovcm | February 24, 2011 8:23 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: jbeeler | February 24, 2011 9:04 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: someguy100 | February 24, 2011 9:49 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 24, 2011 10:41 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Cal_Lanier | February 24, 2011 11:44 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: someguy100 | February 24, 2011 1:33 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 24, 2011 3:52 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Cal_Lanier | February 24, 2011 4:02 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: FloridaChick | February 24, 2011 9:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: david_r_fry | February 25, 2011 1:55 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: someguy100 | February 25, 2011 9:42 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: david_r_fry | February 25, 2011 2:35 PM | Report abuse