20 minutes to better grades

At the beginning of the academic year, Ocean View High School added 20 extra minutes of potential learning time after each class. Three months in, students are seeing significant changes.

The embedded tutorial program gives students more time for learning, tutoring or homework, and rewards high-achieving students with an extra break.

School officials say the program has increased attendance, curbed bad behavior and reduced the number of students who are failing or in danger of failing.

"We're trying to create a school that makes it easier for students to pass," Principal Dan Bryan said.

The program started after some Ocean View teachers saw a similar program at Whittier High School. The school tailored the program to its specific needs and to its block schedule.

The idea is to give teachers an extra 20 minutes to use however they feel their students would profit from the most. Bryan said the program gives teachers a lot of flexibility and they can change how they use the time with every period.

"It's quite innovative, but it's a simple, elegant solution to not letting students fail," he said.

The chance was a difficult one to get used to for senior Kalie McColloch. She said she was initially upset that the schedule she was so used to was changed.

The 17-year-old said now she sees it as a good idea overall, but she has issues with some teachers' inconsistency with letting some students out for break, while other teachers use the time to lecture. At the end of the day, though, Kalie said she thinks Ocean View should continue with the program.

"I think the students are already getting used to it, and they've accepted it," she said. "I think it's a good approach."

A science teacher could use it to finish up a lab, a math teacher could teach students an additional concept, or teachers could go over a question on a test that several students got wrong to figure out what the problem was, Bryan said.

Teachers can also give more one-on-one help or allow students to catch up with their homework. The idea is to give students who need it extra help, he said.

"You're not failing out of Ocean View," Bryan said. "We're not letting you."

The number of students with a D or F grade has gone down from 728 in 2009 to 568 in 2010, according to the most recent data, Bryan said. The individual number of D or F grades has also decreased from 1,520 in 2009 to 957 in 2010, he said.

Students are also showing up to class more, which isn't a coincidence, he said.

"Students are doing better in school, so they feel like they have more of a connection with class," Bryan said.

The program can also be used as a disciplinary tool. Students who talk in class or waste the teacher's time could land themselves in tutorial to make up that time lost.

Behavior referrals from teachers have gone down about 10%, and the number of students suspended has been reduced by 50% from last year. The decreases in bad behavior are another aspect Bryan believes tutorial has had a hand in. If students behave themselves and keep up academically, they are rewarded with extra break time.

It's a mix of extra academic assistance and learning time, and an incentive to behave and learn the material that is already changing the school, Bryan said.

"It really incentivizes learning because the kids want to get out early," Bryan said.

For freshman Matthew Miller, the extra learning time tutorial provides is working. Although he sometimes gets to use the time for a break, the other times he does his homework, and so far, his grades have been staying up, he said.

The 14-year-old also considers the program good for his group of friends who, he said, don't like school or the tutorial.

"I think it's helping them," he said.

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