First-year principal Jason Lords and teachers at Rocky Mountain Middle School knew they needed to do something about the F’s.
At this middle school in Idaho Falls’ Bonneville Joint School District, a student body of roughly 770 students had collectively earned 101 F’s at the end of first semester in 2011.
By Nov. 15, 2012, students were on track to amass 156 F’s at Rocky Mountain, which earned three stars in the state’s new five-star rating system.
Educators needed to keep students from blowing off assignments until the very end, falling a semester behind as high school loomed.
To tackle the problem, a small team attended a PLC Academy workshop to research new ideas and solutions.
They traveled to observe Lakeridge Junior High School in Utah. The school and its principal, Garrick Peterson, was recently named best in the state.
And they focused on professional learning communities and breaking into teams of teachers to emphasize collaboration and student achievement.
Based on their research, Rocky Mountain’s staff sought extended, regular contact with students who were falling behind.
They needed time outside of the traditional instructional hour. But lunches are always hectic, and before and after school, students are regularly rushing for a ride or darting to an extracurricular activity.
The decided to tweak the schedule, rework the daily advisory period and add a 30-minute intervention into the day. During that time, students in danger of failing break into teams to focus on math, language, social studies or science assignments, depending on where they are falling behind.
“Flex time still builds relationships with students who struggle,” Lords said. “But one thing we wanted to make sure we were doing is track it to see if it is a benefit to the students.”
The staff also surveys parents and students about the new policies.
With Idaho Core Standards, the state’s version of Common Core, on the horizon next school year, Lords and the staff are focused on students mastering content, and they wanted students more prepared this year.
But they also wanted to reward students who were doing fine.
Now, students with A’s, B’s and C’s participate in 30-minute activity of their choice during the interventions. They spike volleyballs in the gym, catch a movie in the auditorium or play in the computer lab.
Additionally, teachers print mini report cards four days a week, so students and educators know exactly where they stand.
The team is pleased with the early results. At the end of the first semester this year, students recorded only 39 F’s, about one fourth the number from mid-November.
Health and physical education teacher Lisa Jolley said the new strategy is working.
“Kids are motivated by it when they look at D’s and F’s,” Jolley said. “It’s the social time, what motivates this age group.”
Many students said they have benefitted from the flex time and zero tolerance F policies. And it isn’t just students who regularly struggle who have reaped rewards.
“Some days, when I’ve been absent, I go into flex time and finish up the stuff I’ve been gone for,” seventh-grader Torrey Becker said.
There’s also an incentive that motivates students.
“It rewards kids who keep their grades up,” Torrey said.