Saying they need time for planning if an innovative new program is to work, teachers at John Muir Middle School have asked the Board of Education to send pupils home early two school days per month.
The Burbank Unified School District program, called American Odyssey, involves English and social studies teachers working together to teach history, reading and writing.
For example, the eighth-grade students pick characters from the period of the American Revolution and write diaries and play roles based on what they have learned in history class. They would also read a novel from the period, and then write a sequel using their own characters.
“Their writing is some of the finest I’ve ever seen,” said Carol Flesher, an eighth-grade English and French teacher at Muir. Students who generally have been disaffected and uninvolved in school have taken a sudden interest, creating characters that range from a slave and master or husband and wife to Native American or a jilted lover who has left Europe looking for a new life, she said.
“They either created their alter ego or their fantasies, and have almost a personal stake in their lives,” Flesher said. “C-, D- and F-level students have turned in extraordinary levels of work.”
But the problem with this new approach, which started with only gifted students last year and expanded to all eighth-graders this year, is the time needed to plan. Flesher and four other teachers spent two unpaid days of their summer vacation getting ready for this year. They want to expand the program to include other subjects such as math and science, but teachers do not have enough time in the day to coordinate such a project.
The board is to consider their request for short school days at its Dec. 9 meeting. Shortening the day, however, is a touchy subject with parents, who worry that their children are not learning as much if they are not in class, board President Elena Hubbell said.