In the Fall I wrote the praises of Intersession – why we do it, the amazing sites, quotes, experiences, memories that come with it. Today, surrounded by sounds from Chicks and Cops, I’m tempted to write another blog (I even came up with a title, “Death of a Peep”). But I thought instead I would write about the other, not-so-sexy-but-just-as-important component of our program.
Intersession marks the end of the 1st and 3rd quarters – half way through each semester. In part we use it as an incentive to get our students to complete all of their work. Starting weeks before, we remind them that if they have major assignments that are not completed or that are done with insufficient care, they will have to miss some of their Intersession in order to complete those assignments. That threat alone is enough to get most students to shift into high gear and get their work done (teachers also work hard to make sure they are doing what they need to be doing and have support if needed). We call it, “Taking Care of Business” and it works.
Very few students usually need to miss time from their Intersession, but when they do, they receive one on one support to make sure they understand what they need to do and follow through with their work to complete it. Then when they are done with the week, they transition into Fall/Spring break and the next quarter knowing that they were caught up in their academics. It doesn’t ensure student success, but it goes a long way in helping them get there.
Once when giving a school tour to a parent I was asked what percentage of our students fail. I was momentarily taken aback by the question before answering what I think is the truth about our program – no student fails, at least not abjectly and indiscriminately as they are allowed to do in other settings. When one of our students shows those signs, we intervene – immediately and robustly. We use every tool in our toolbox to do so, which has ranged from positive reinforcements (from simple praise, to hummus and Pokemon cards rewards), to consequences (lunch work, afterschool support, and finally, missing part of Intersession). For help we enlist parental support, use UofA tutors, and perhaps most effectively, nonstop pestering by the likes of Sherry, Rosemary, and Seth.
Of course, our students and the school has failures, but we work to stop them from being habitual, both in the person and the institution. We try to learn from our mistakes and take corrective actions. For our students, we try to break bad habits and replace them with new, productive ones and help students rewrite their academic self-narratives so they see themselves as being successful at school. Middle school is the time when these narratives emerge and become eventually become ossified. While not as fun as backpacking, bike riding, and jujitsu, attending to these issues are as important and significant as these wonderful Intersession experiences are.