Home Room had a vague function years ago: a place to study, or not, and to get brief notices from school administrators. That ancient definition of Home Room is far from what Bishop Union High School students will be involved in beginning Tuesday, Jan. 8.
The 30-minute period had been referred to as a “flex period” or an “advisory period,” but will be officially Home Room with a flexible function exceeding the traditional concept.
By reducing class periods by four minutes and taking two minutes from the passing periods, the school’s administrators created the 30-minute Home Room, starting at 10:01 a.m., after the morning break and ending at 10:31, before period three. The school’s counselors worked through the holiday break to assign students to Home Room teachers with the hope that the ratio will be around 25:1.
Students will be assigned to a Home Room teacher by grade level. “We’ve designed the groups to be representative of a number of populations in that grade level,” said Principal Al Van Velzen. They won’t “all be athletes or all honor students. It will be mixed so the students get a broader perspective.” The students will stay with the same teacher in the same Home Room through graduation.
This teacher-driven concept is not new. Home Street Middle School has a similar program. “What got the momentum going here,” said Van Velzen, “was a Professional Learning Communities conference” that 13 BUHS teachers attended. According to Van Velzen, PLC is a wide-spread, comprehensive vision of where schools should go. “One aspect is, What do you do when students don’t learn? Do you give them an F and forget about it, or do you prescribe an intervention?” Schools have been trying to encourage students struggling with specific subjects to come for help during lunch or after school, but with limited success, said Van Velzen. The initial seed for Home Room was this flexible period where students could go for targeted intervention, in math, English, science or social studies.
Val Velzen outlined the intervention structure: Students who need extra support will be identified by their course teachers. During the Home Room period, they will go to a specific teacher with a prescription of what they need to learn. Peer tutors will be used in a one-on-one format. Once the student has a grasp of the material, he will go back to his assigned Home Room. “There are dual benefits” to the peer-tutor concept, said Van Velzen. “The influence of a peer tutor can be more impactful than a teacher, sometimes.”
The other primary function of Home Room is the advisory component. “It’s not uncommon (in schools with demographics similar to BUHS) for a number of students to not have goals. They really don’t have a strong sense of direction,” said Van Velzen. “They don’t need a specific career or college goal, but they do need the belief that if they work hard and study that that will help them in life. We need to get the value of education across.”
The Home Room teacher, or advisor, will work with each student on setting goals, then track the progress toward meeting those goals. The school’s Loop Program already provides assignments and grades for each student and is accessible through the Internet for parents as well as the student’s advisor to track their progress in each course. “A lot of (the system) is based on the relationship between the advisor and the student,” said Van Velzen. “Hopefully, through that relationship, the student sees the advisor as someone who cares and wants the best for them.”
Home Room will run Tuesdays through Fridays. Mondays are already shortened class days to allow for collaborative teacher meetings at the end of the shortened class time. Tuesday will be the primary advisory day with Wednesdays and Thursdays allotted as study periods when students will do homework or study. The hope is that the students will “see the benefit of having some additional study time during the school day,” said Van Velzen. “They’ll have the opportunity to get organized, figure out what they need to accomplish during the week…. more thoughtful planning on the part of the students than just showing up.”
Friday is the designated sustained, silent reading day. Van Velzen acknowledged that with the options available to students, reading for pleasure can end up as a low priority. “The philosophy is that it’s not coercive if everybody else is quietly reading,” said Van Velzen. “That’s not hard and fast. It may vary from teacher to teacher, but the value of reading is part of the consideration.”
Van Velzen stressed the flexibility of Home Room. “It offers a couple of opportunities,” he said, mentioning the Sandy Hook shooting in mid-December. “You want a discussion student-to-student about that,” he said. “There are a lot of issues students don’t have a forum to talk to other students about. Kids need to hear from other students. It has more credibility. We want those kinds of mature discussions on a number of issues.
“This is staff-driven,” he said. “It’s not coming from the top down and that, in itself, is huge for this school. Teachers aren’t doing this because it’s easy; it doesn’t make life better for them. They want to do it because it’s good for the kids.”