Every school day for two weeks earlier this month at Socrates Academy, something new and interesting was brewing at the Middle School. Scholars dashed through the hall after third period, congregating in small groups inside classrooms or momentarily in the hallways with other students they might not ordinarily see in class.
It was all in the name of enrichment. For some students, it was a time to learn things not typically part of the school day like typing, chess, board-game design, journalism, or even to tackle a new intellectual challenge with Genius Hour programming. For others, it was a time to focus on concepts they might be struggling with in a session with a core-class teacher using novel instruction.
The leadership team created a half hour block from 10:30 to 11 a.m. by shaving five minutes from classes throughout the day for nine days during the last two weeks of first and second quarters. During this time, scholars who needed extra help in either English-Language Arts or Math got intervention from a certified core class teacher while other scholars participated in enrichment classes supervised by either Greek, specials or elective teachers and sometimes parents with expertise in a certain area.
Sandra Brighton, the principal of Socrates Academy, is especially looking for more parents to come forward with ideas for how they can share their knowledge. She encourages parents to think creatively about how they can teach something about their careers or hobbies to Socrates scholars. Topics could include but aren’t limited to: photography, knitting, robotics, or personal finance. No teaching experience is necessary. Those interested should contact Ms. Brighton directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“This is something that is unique to our Middle School,” Ms. Brighton said. “Some middle schools are doing away with enrichment, and the ones that do intervention blocks sometimes can end up with time wasted for the other scholars.” It is a bit of a pilot program, Ms. Brighton said, and a way to fulfill a need. Parents have expressed a desire for other electives besides Art, Drama, Band and the Spanish and Chinese language electives. “We wanted to be able to enrich the curriculum, so we thought about how to do that,” she said. “The power was put into the hands of all the Middle School teachers. They got together in their professional learning communities to decide how it was going to work.”
As for the intervention blocks, one thing that is important to point out, Ms. Brighton said, is that they are part of the contract between parents and the school to make all scholars successful. “We have a rigorous curriculum and we feel that kids come here because they want to learn and parents need them here to learn.” So even if a scholar needed to work just one particular skill, that person could join an intervention block where students were working on similar concepts. It is a chance for scholars to receive targeted tutoring from a certified teacher, she said.
At this age, students are very conscious of what everyone else is doing and no one wants to feel left out. But that is the beauty of the program, Ms. Brighton said. “No one is alone.” And teachers aim to make things engaging. Ms. Brighton gave an example of ELA teacher Jonni Hovan’s intervention block during first quarter for 8th graders who needed to work on vocabulary. “She created a silly paragraph about carpool and asked the kids to fill in the blank with a word. They shared their words, and she challenged them to come up with even higher-level words.” The open format of that exchange allowed students to challenge each other, too.
How to measure the success of this idea? It can be hard to gauge precisely, but one example Ms. Brighton gave was in 8th Grade math. She said that during First Quarter, the students working during the intervention block with Katerina Karatzina and Charlotte Lamm were given problems focused on a specific objective. The first week, the scholars asked many questions as concepts were being introduced, but by the second week they worked much more independently.
For the enrichment piece, Ms. Brighton said, it was interesting to see how the uniqueness of the teachers came through in what they had to offer. For instance, Spanish teacher Tom Fisher led an enrichment block for 8th grade that designed board games as a strategy for thinking creatively and solving problems.
“I shared some examples of great board games with them, like Settlers of Catan, The Castles of Mad King Ludwig, and Splendor,” Mr. Fisher said. “Their first job was to create a back-story – like the story behind Clue, which introduces all the characters and sets up the game. After, they had to create the object of the game and the rules. Additionally, they sketched out cards, boards etc. We didn't have time to have actual games to play, but it got a lot of the kids very pumped up.” The students said things like "It was a fun and creative experience,” and expressed happiness that there were so many options for making many different games.
The hope is that some ideas from enrichment blocks will lead to more permanent offerings that students will embrace. In 7th grade, for instance, the students were so interested in the chess enrichment they participated in that teachers ended up applying for a TUG (Teach Unique Grant) through the PFI to buy more chess mats, said Social Studies teacher Sean Leddy. He is preparing the paperwork for the grant and said teachers would love to have a parent who plays chess come in and help lead that enrichment block at the end of third quarter in March. Any interested parent can contact him at email@example.com.
Mr. Leddy also led an enrichment block during first quarter that used CNN to discuss current events. “We talked about what was going on in Washington, the concept of checks and balances and how that relates to what they are learning in class,” Mr. Leddy said. His goal has always been to keep history alive and show the students connections between the wider world and their own lives. Because the enrichment blocks are smaller, he can dig deeper into these ideas. He is looking forward to what can be offered to students going forward. “I think we did fine for our first time doing this,” he said. “Now, we’ll grow and get more student input and include more things they are really excited about.”