A schedule to keep them on the same page

NEWPORT BEACH — Ensign Intermediate School is trying out a new scheduling model that seeks to help struggling math students from falling too far behind.

The plan, geared for seventh-grade pre-algebra classes, diverts the underachieving students into a separate class, which re-teaches them the material over the course of a few days.

Afterward, the students return to their peers for the next lesson.

"A lot of kids were falling through the cracks," pre-algebra teacher Kathy Brandes said, but now the teachers are able to "give extra help to the kids who needed extra help."

The middle school started the program in the fall after educators had to figure out how to make the most of their time and resources after budget cuts, said Principal Steve McLaughlin.

Out of that conversation came the scheduling model that works to keep students from falling behind while keeping their peers engaged by building on what they have learned, he said.

"We are doing some things different — challenging traditional models and thought," McLaughlin said. "It's a more targeted approach to the specific needs of kids."

The approach also keeps students out of remedial classes that can take them away from what they should be learning, he said.

Those classes are a burden on teachers who can only handle so many academically challenged students in one class, Brandes said.

The model has the potential to keep more students on track to go on to higher math classes, McLaughlin said.

Already, data show the number of students with failing grades declining, he said.

Seventh-grader Tehya Corona once struggled but is now getting As and Bs.

Tehya, 12, likes that the schedule model allows her teacher to teach to her level. It also helps that she gets to learn the material from more than one teacher, she said.

As an example, Tehya said one teacher will use arts and crafts to reinforce the lesson, while another will use writing.

"I think it is helping because I'm learning to do it one way, but if I don't understand, I can learn it in a better way," she said.

It's getting the material from different teaching styles that helps reinforce the lesson, Peter Bush, 12, said.

The four pre-algebra teachers are giving the same lessons at the same time. To make the model work, the four had to standardize their lesson plans, homework and tests.

Creating a uniform lesson plan has been no easy feat, said Brandes, who also serves as the math department chairwoman.

Getting on board has been a lot of work with meetings nearly every day in the beginning of the school year. The teachers still meet several times a week.

Despite the increase in workload, Brandes said she has seen students benefit and would like to continue with the model again next year.

McLaughlin said they are still experimenting with the model's design, but are also looking into how the model could be expanded to other disciplines.

"The question becomes: Couldn't we do that with science? Couldn't we do that with history?" McLaughlin said. "I think it can be applied across the board."

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