Finding innovative ways to inspire students and teachers alike is among Jacqueline Rivers’ main duties as principal of Boude Storey Middle School.
Although opting for the School Day Redesign Calendar meant shorter summers, her students and staff are motivated to breach the learning gap caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Boude Storey Middle School is among five Dallas ISD schools that opted for a School Day Redesign calendar, where school starts Aug. 2 and ends June 23.
“At the end of the day, every teacher and every principal is going to be held accountable for one thing: student success,” Rivers said. “Whether it is state accountability, or district assessments, we’re all held accountable. But what my teachers don’t have to do is to search for opportunities and find ways to get our kids up to speed. Under the School Day Redesign Calendar, our students are here and we’re able to give that accelerated instruction during the day.”
To get the most out of the additional calendar days, Principal Rivers and the Boude Storey staff created a Redesign Day, where teachers focus on tackling the learning deficits and where students get hands-on experience and put their knowledge to the test on real-world scenarios.
We spoke to Principal Rivers about why she opted in for this new calendar model, what she thinks about it so far, and the accelerated learning strategies that her campus is implementing.
Why did you decide to opt in for this alternative and what was the process?
The question presented to us was to identify those students who needed accelerated instruction. Of course, because of the pandemic and even outside the pandemic, our school serves a low socio-economic student population and there are a lot of challenges. Typically, we’d make sure to have accelerated instruction anyway. But because of COVID, even more so. That’s why our school chose this particular structure.
My community was happy to know that we had a plan in place to ensure that students got caught up, because parents want to see their kids excel. For my students, going from the sixth grade to the seventh grade, or from seventh to eighth grade, who might have missed some work or some items from our curriculum during the pandemic, we needed to come up with a plan to breach those gaps: a how and a when.
It’s already a challenge to make sure that all of our students are not only up to par with the TEA and Dallas ISD’s requirements, but also college- and career-ready, during a normal school year. So, without the additional time, when is it going to happen?
The Redesign calendar is perfect because it helps us have our students during the day, and not depend on after-school tutoring. We definitely offer those things, but it’s not always guaranteed that we get the population of students that we need. This structure allows me to implement accelerated instruction on a consistent basis and breach those gaps.
How do students and teachers benefit from these extra days?
Because we’re a Redesign campus, my team and I were able to figure out what those extra days would look like. We’re not on the same calendar as everyone else. We have those extra days built into the year, and those particular days are specific to that purpose of accelerated instruction.
The purpose of the redesign is so that we can accelerate instruction, so that we can bridge those gaps that students have because of COVID. On those Wednesdays, and it’s typically about two Wednesdays per month, we are specifically targeting the curriculum deficit for students. Any other day, we’re probably looking like any other campus, because we’re still teaching the same things and implementing the same curriculum. But on my redesign days, while we’re still teaching that curriculum, we take that time to ensure that every child is up to speed.
We also added an enrichment, hands-on component where every student participates in an enrichment organization during the last period of the day. During that time, the students really use and develop the problem-solving skills that we teach in the classroom.
For example, some choose to join the chess enrichment club, which allows them to practice strategy and exercise the brain. We have a culinary arts organization, a gardening enrichment club, among many others. The teachers who are running these enrichment organizations have to have a lesson plan, and every organization is responsible for a service learning project that services our community. All this takes place for half of the day, and at the end of the half day, we have early release.
During the second half of the day, our teachers are engaged in professional development and planning. We’re gathering and looking at our students’ performance. We look at how they performed during the last two weeks.
During that second time of the day, we really get to identify the students who need to receive the accelerated instruction in order to perform. We address those matters immediately so that it doesn’t become a bigger issue. We’re not waiting until the end of the semester to address it; we get to address it right there.
In a regular setting, we’d still have to make time to do that, but we would have to find time to sit down and actually, really dive into the data. So, we’d still do it, but it’s so fast-paced that it’s not as effective. These extra days allow us to be more effective and to slow down and address those deficits even deeper.
How did the first Redesign Day go?
It was wonderful! We held a pep rally and got the students pumped about the program. We put together an Enrichment Organization Fair, where the students got to learn about our clubs and chose which one they wanted to participate in. The teachers who are in charge of the organizations did a special presentation of their club in class so that the students could get a better understanding of what the activities would be like. Once we had early release, many students did not want to go home because they were so pumped about this new part of the curriculum.
After dismissal, our staff put on their sneakers and their Boude Storey T-shirts and participated in a door-to-door enrollment walk. We were visiting homes to make sure that all of our students who are supposed to be in school are enrolled and return to class. We organized an enrollment raffle, where parents could come and enroll their student and drop off a voucher at the front office, for a chance to win a 40-inch TV.
How do you feel about the Redesign?
It was treading new territory, but my parents and staff were committed. We took a survey last year and most of them opted for this because they saw the benefit of it. And although we’re not necessarily on the same page as everybody else, and although my students and staff have fewer days off than everybody else, they’re motivated. Especially after the first Redesign Day, which really brought to light what needed to be done. They really understood the parameters in which we can engage students and get students on track. We planned it, and talked about it, and put it on paper, but it’s a lot more impactful when you actually do it.