County schools to offer innovative courses

Published 10:55 pm Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Kids at Pike County high schools will soon be able to take part in some unusual classes as part of a new Discovery Block program.

“We did a pilot program in the spring at both high schools and it was very successful,” said Donnella Carter, administrative assistant for Curriculum and Federal Programs at Pike County Schools.

Discovery Block will be offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week and will include extracurricular classes – not for credit – such as etiquette, quilting, dance, hunter safety, digital design, debate, drama, animal care, mythology, crafts and religious studies. Students can also choose to take part in sessions to help them prepare for tests and college courses.

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Those who are struggling in scholastic areas will use the Discovery Block time for remedial and intervention studies in math and reading.

“The idea came about as a need to get some RTI (Response to Intervention) time in at the high school level,” said Pike County Assistant Superintendent Dr. Mark Head. “We simply couldn’t fit it in consistently during the regular schedule.”

RTI is a method of academic intervention used by educators to prevent academic failure through early intervention.

On the days when students participate in Discovery Block, time is shaved off of transitions and breaks to create a 45-minute period for the extra classes.

The other days of the week will be normal, but administrators hope to expand the program to include Mondays.

The Discovery Block program wasn’t a rush decision. It is a year in the making for the school system that is borrowing the idea from a North Alabama institution.

“They have seen a great deal of positive results,” Head said.

“And after seeing it in practice during our pilot program, I think it is really going to be a good thing for us, overall.”

While the classes outside of the intervention-based sessions are fun, Carter said they shouldn’t be thought of as “free time.”

“Everybody is engaged and each class has a curriculum,” she said.

And it’s not a punishment for students who will be in the intervention sessions. Discovery Block will be structured so that all students and all teachers will be able to change gears and participate in other learning opportunities.

“We want them to get a chance to take part in some of these other courses, too,” Head said. “That’s important.”

Administrators issued a survey to students last school year asking them what courses they’d like to take during Discovery Block and then presented the top choices to teachers. Carter said teachers were asked which classes appealed to them and administrators did their best to match teacher talents with the courses they will instruct.

Head said he expects the extracurricular classes to begin in September after there is time to evaluate what students might need extra scholastic help.

“We couldn’t do innovative things like this without the full support of the superintendent and the school board who recognize the needs of students and allow us to fulfill those needs when and where we can,” Carter said.