Students at East Lawrence High School in Caddo, Alabama, will devote Mondays during the spring semester, starting January 26, to independent study instead of a regular class schedule, the Decatur Daily reports.
Last year, the high school experienced the highest failure rate in 10 years, with 140 of 400 students failing at least one subject. Since more than 60 percent of the students at the high school are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, Assistant Principal Casey Tate attributed the failure rate, at least in part, to the socioeconomic status of students at the school, pointing out that most students live in working, single-parent or grandparent households and may not have an adult at home after school to help them study or keep them on task with homework.
“They don’t have the parental support,” the paper quoted him as saying. “If they don’t have an adult making sure their homework or classwork gets done, they’re least likely to do it. They are still kids.”
Attendance will be optional on Mondays, which have been designated as “iLearning” days, the ‘i’ standing for ‘independent.’ But students who are using the day for credit recovery will only be allowed to miss two days during the semester. One student, who has a course load that includes two Advanced Placement classes but has to work at a restaurant every day, starting at 5 PM, said she would take advantage of having more hours available at least one day a week to devote to studying.
“It’s really hard and frustrating to get all my schoolwork done sometimes,” the Daily quoted Kinsey Dumas, a senior at the school, as saying. “So, I’m really looking forward to just staying home a day just to get everything done.”
Several students at the school, Mr Tate said, have to work to help support their families. “So they can’t go to the ACT or AP workshop after school or on Saturdays.”
Most of the students who will be using iLearning days to get some extra tutoring—in smaller groups—will be doing so in math. Mondays this spring will allow them to take some time to work through the problem solving that can elude them in a rushed classroom setting with other students who aren’t struggling.
“Time and time again, I have worked with students who really do know what to do but are so afraid of making mistakes that they don’t step out on a limb and try something, anything,” math teacher Teri Ferguson was quoted as saying. “I just want to have the time to get together face-to-face in a low-pressure setting to find out what their needs are and tell them, ‘You can do this.'”
Other ‘low-pressure’ learning environments help the STEM disciplines
One of the most prominent examples of mathematics and engineering learning, at the high school and middle school level, is known as Project Lead The Way. Its proven curriculum and teacher professional development, combined with an engaged network of educators and corporate and community partners, help students develop skills they need to succeed in a global economy.
PLTW has exposed high school and middle school students to STEM careers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Large training centers are in place at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Purdue University, and the University of Southern California, and the project has grown quickly since 2003, when only three courses were offered.
The program owes much of its success with encouraging students to pursue careers in STEM fields to its immersion of those students in math and engineering early. This technique enables them to make informed choices about their careers or college majors in a low-cost, low-pressure environment, before they get to college and invest important time and treasure in a discipline that may not hold their interest once they realize how much math is required.