Extending Learning Time for Disadvantaged Students - Volume 2 Profiles of Promising Practices - 1995
A r c h i v e d I n f o r m a t i o n
Year-Round Education with Intersession Programs
Socorro Independent School District
El Paso County, Texas
- Site-based management
- Combination of acceleration, enrichment, and extracurricular activities
In 1990, the Socorro Independent School District began phasing in year-round education with intersession programs to improve academic achievement and better serve a rapidly increasing population. Every school now follows a schedule of 60 weekdays on, 20 weekdays off. Intersession activities occur during the first two weeks of each month-long break. Academic programs focus on tutoring, acceleration, and enrichment activities that use thematic, whole-language approaches; the shorter breaks between courses decrease the loss of English skills by many students with limited English proficiency. Participation in intersessions is voluntary, but students who have failed or fallen behind are encouraged to attend. About 33 percent--and in some cases as much as 70 percent--of all students participate in intersession programs. Most schools follow multi-track schedules to serve larger numbers of students.
The Socorro school district is located in El Paso County, which borders on Mexico and New Mexico. It serves about 17,900 students in the urban, primarily low-income communities of Socorro, Horizon City, and the eastern corridor of El Paso. Ninety percent of the students are Hispanic, 9 percent are Anglo, and 1 percent are African American. Many students come from low-income families; some live in homes with no interior plumbing. Approximately 300 students are from migrant families. The district has the lowest dropout rate in the county, however, due primarily to prevention programs established in the 1980s. The district ranks in the bottom 10 percent of districts in the state in terms of per-pupil expenditures and was one of the original plaintiffs in the school finance lawsuit filed against the state in 1989.
Major Program Features
- Planning and design. The impetus for year-round education in the Socorro school district was the rapid expansion of the student population, which increases between 8 percent and 10 percent each year. Planning began with a 60-member community task force that included students, parents, teachers, and administrators. The task force and school district staff studied year-round education by visiting schools, reviewing research, and interviewing administrators. The task force held 100 meetings to share information on year-round education and possible schedules with the community. The study and the meetings convinced school district staff and community members that a year-round schedule would benefit children from low-income backgrounds who had low academic achievement scores. School staff also thought that the year-round model would better serve students trying to learn English, who typically lost much of their English proficiency during the long summer break.
The task force proposed a three-year phase-in of the year-round schedule, and in the 1991-92 school year the district offered a year-round option in addition to the traditional schedule in all of the district's schools except the high schools. At one of the middle schools, only 20 percent of the parents chose the year-round option, so school administrators waited until the next year to offer the new schedule. At the other schools, more than 60 percent of the parents chose the year-round program in its first year. Some schools had to establish multi-track schedules because the size of the participating student population otherwise exceeded their capacities.
A working group of teachers, parents, and administrators designed the intersession programs. The groups used the intersession component to explore new ways of teaching but allowed each school to adopt or adapt the suggested designs.
- Academic focus. Intersession formats vary by school, but most have acceleration and enrichment activities from approximately 8 a.m. to noon, followed by extracurricular activities in the afternoon, for one week at a time. For example, students spend two hours in language arts tutoring sessions in groups of 10 to 15, followed by two hours of mathematics tutoring. According to Socorro's course outline for extended learning, the morning period incorporates whole-language activities: "Begin with introduction of theme book and tie in other activities with spelling, literature response groups, vocabulary, and other activities....Writing should be an important component in this reading adventure.... Also, poetry, letter writing, and essays could be explored. Writings should be related to [the] literature book being used. A [project] taken through the writing process should be an end product when the session is over. More than one writing could be completed in the week." At the end of this session, students may take quizzes or present their writings orally.
Throughout the day, other enrichment activities are available, including arts and crafts, music lessons, woodworking, and karate. A mathematics component uses board games, slates, hands-on manipulatives, and problem solving by writing descriptive story problems to emphasize higher-order thinking skills. Other recent activities introduced students to Southwestern literature, science fiction, and an environmental study based on the Rio Grande River and its impact on the community.
Some of the intersession programs are grade-specific; typically, this depends on the number of children who sign up in each grade. Two or more groups might be formed, with students from more than one grade in each. The year-round and intersession programs are open to all students who want to enroll in enrichment programs. The only selective groupings are for special needs students (e.g., students in English as a Second Language (ESL) or bilingual education programs).
- Organizational management/structure. Each campus has a school improvement team--composed of a teacher from each grade level, parents, community members (nonparents), administrators, and secondary or middle-school students--that determines the goals and objectives for the school and how inter-sessions can help meet these goals. The district has implemented site-based management at each campus, and these teams also are responsible for the overall management of the school. For example, if a school has high writing scores but low reading scores, the team may focus intersessions on building reading skills. This team also selects teachers for the intersessions.
Overall coordination of the intersessions varies among schools. At some campuses, teachers receive additional pay for coordinating that year's intersessions; at others, a teacher-coordinator is designated for each intersession. Other schools have appointed an administrator to oversee the intersessions.
- Parent and community involvement. Parents and community members were actively involved in designing the year-round and intersession programs through the task force and original working group. Their involvement continues through each school's working group. Families coordinate with the schools to ensure that all children in a family follow the same track or schedule.
- Professional environment. The schedule change has increased cooperation among teachers and administrators. This is especially true for teachers on multi-track schedules, who share classrooms, equipment, supplies, and teaching strategies. In at least one instance, the intersession provided an opportunity for teachers to experiment with cooperative learning methods. At one of the high schools, the head of the history department had provided a staff development session on cooperative learning but could not get teachers to implement the new methods. During the fall intersession, three teachers tried the new techniques with small groups of students; the positive response led the teachers to use these methods in their regular classrooms. Teachers who volunteer to teach intersessions receive compensation.
- Funding. The district provides each school with intersession funding of $30 per child per year. The district offers 120 intersession hours per year and about one third of the students attend each intersession; thus, the expenditure is about $1.30 per student hour. The program provides breakfast to all intersession students and lunch to those who live more than two miles away and are bused to the program. The district funds intersessions through a variety of sources, including: (1) categorical federal funding (e.g., Title I, bilingual education, and migrant education funds); (2) general funds from the state and the district; (3) a special line-item appropriation established by the state for districts implementing year-round schedules, which resulted in $1.5 million appropriated for the biennium across the state or $300,000 for the Socorro district; and (4) increases in school budgets due to increased average daily attendance.
- Cultural inclusiveness. Because it serves a predominantly Hispanic student population, the school district has a strong bilingual, bicultural emphasis. Intersessions have reinforced this. At one school, parents requested that the intersession focus on teaching Spanish to monolingual English students and English to Spanish-speaking students. The program was so successful that the school offered similar classes during regular sessions. Other examples include exchange programs set up during intersessions, including one with students in a school in Juarez, Mexico.
- Assessment and accountability. Each campus is evaluated annually by a team of outside professionals. The teams survey parents, teachers, students, and community leaders and examine student test scores and progress toward stated objectives. In addition, evaluators collect data on attendance, discipline act-ions, and dropouts. This evaluation is shared with the School Improvement Team and is used to set the goals for the next year.
The challenge of balancing the increased academic needs of an expanding student population with inadequate funding generated by the property-poor district necessitated the three-year phase-in of a year-round schedule. The task force's comprehensive study and numerous community meetings before the program's implementation built a strong foundation of community support for the year-round schedule and intersessions. The program works very well in the "working poor" community because the schedule fits most families' lifestyles. According to district personnel, families typically did not travel during the summer and could not afford summer camps for their children, so they appreciated the added school activities during the summer.
Resistance to the year-round schedule appeared in only one neighborhood middle school, where campus administrators did not support the new calendar and did not promote it in their community. This reluctance was reflected in the first year's preregistration; less than 20 percent of parents signed up for the new calendar. Consequently, the district decided not to offer the year-round schedule at that site. The following year, the school was so crowded that administrators had no choice and had to implement a multi-track year-round schedule.
In addition to improving academic achievement, the year-round/ intersession program has helped ameliorate overcrowding in many schools across the district. In the second year of implementation, multi-track year-round schedules were established at nine overcrowded schools, enabling the district to serve 2,000 more students than was possible with a traditional school calendar; now, 12 of the 18 schools use multi-track schedules. One school that is overcrowded even with multi-tracks offers intersessions off-site in partnership with the local YWCA. The YWCA was already holding before- and after-school programs, and when the school's multi-track schedule did not solve its crowding problems, the principal and YWCA director developed the off-site intersession arrangement. The YWCA pays for the cost of the afternoon programs and the school pays for morning academic sessions. Teachers hold classes at the "Y," and school buses transport the students.
Although the district allows students to attend intersessions at other campuses, about 99 percent of the students participate at their home campus. The program that typically draws students from other campuses is Science Camp and is only offered at certain schools. The district provides bus transportation for any student who lives two or more miles from the campus, and if students decide to attend other campuses for intersession, bus service is provided. In the first year of the program, Socorro published a booklet describing the intersessions at each campus, but so few students chose to attend another school that district officials decided it was unnecessary to continue such a publication. If students are interested in intersessions focusing on a particular subject, teachers help them locate the appropriate campus.
Evidence of Success
At the elementary level, where schools are in their third year of year-round schedules, the district has assembled several measures of success:
- Test scores. In 1993, more of the district's third-graders showed mastery of reading, writing, and mathematics on three Texas basic skills subtests than did their counterparts statewide. For example, 74 percent of the district's students mastered the writing test, compared with 68 percent of the students statewide; in mathematics, 88 percent of the district students showed mastery, compared with 85 percent statewide. "Demographically, we shouldn't do that. We are one of the only school districts with our demographics that has scored above the state average. We see that as an indicator that we're doing something right," the assistant superintendent said.
- Attendance rates. Attendance has increased in each year of implementation by as much as 2 percent, a trend that administrators link to the new schedule.
- Class failure rate. The district's class failure rate has dropped by half for middle schools, where a high percent of students were failing one or more courses. Discipline referrals have dropped by 50 percent at middle schools, where discipline and failure rates have been problems.
High schools are in their first year of the year-round schedule, so they have less evidence of success. However, in 1994, 64 percent of the district's eleventh-graders mastered all three subtests on the state assessment; traditionally less than half have done so. In addition, the rate of students failing one course during the first semester dropped from 60 percent to 40 percent.
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