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Class is dismissed early at BEA

By Staff | Mar 1, 2015

Getting out of school early would get any student excited, but now the staff can enjoy it as well.

Blue Earth Area has been implementing their Early Release program this school year which means the students get out of school 45 minutes early on Wednesdays during the months of October through April.

But, there is a lot more going on behind the scenes then just taking the students out of class during that time.

“Teachers need time to work together and collaborate on things,”?BEA?superintendent Evan Gough says.

So, the staff has always had time set aside for professional development.

“Our old PD calendar had five 2-hour late starts and two full days off in October and one full day in February,” Gough explains.

But, now those 2-hour late starts have been eliminated and replaced with the 45-minute early releases on Wednesdays.

“So the schedule will stay more consistent throughout the year,”?he adds.

But, what do the students do with the extra time?

Area churches had a release time on Wednesdays where one group of students would be released from classes in the mornings and some were excused from their classes in the afternoons. The groups would attend release time classes at their respective churches.

“Now we have partnered with area churches and they do their release time after school on Wednesdays,” Gough says.

There were a few factors which had administration questioning the feasibility of making Early Release Time a possibility at first, though.

Some students are not involved in a church. Some students may not have supervision at that time. Other students would not begin sports practice until later on Wednesdays. Parents might not be able to provide transportation for their children on the Wednesdays when they are released 45 minutes early.

The administration and School Board members discussed all the road blocks before the idea could be put into motion.

“The area churches supported the idea and to ease the burden on parents, they are paying for a late bus,”?Gough says. “The school sends all buses at 2:15 and the late bus will send kids home around 4:30 p.m.”

With the financial backing to provide transportation again after Release Time activities at the area churches, students would now have a way home later than when the regular buses would run.

The school also realized that not every student would be attending activities at their churches. So, they provided some place for those individuals to go for that time.

Community Education provides after school care for any students who needed a place to be.

In the high school, students can sign up in order to stay in the media center during that time in order to work on homework or projects. Gough says this works well for the student athletes who may not start practice until later in the afternoon on those days.

So with the details ironed out for the students, the school was able to move forward with the Early Release Time.

“We tried to remove the barrier of child care and put the focus on professional development,”?Gough says.

While the students are released at 2:15 p.m. that is when the staff can maximize their time and work toward improving their teaching methods or incorporating technology into their classrooms.

“The staff members at all grade levels have had greater amounts of time to collaborate and we have focused on more areas including professional learning communities (PLC) and technology, along with other areas of specific interest such as the reading curriculum and how to adopt it,”?BEA?high school principal Rich Schneider says.

In fact, to optimize their time the Wednesdays in October through April are split up; one day will be spent on PLCs, one on curriculum, one on technology and one on research.

“This format allowed us to spread the learning out across the year and be scheduled weekly,” Schneider adds. “For example, having technology once per month allows a topic or strategy to be introduced and practiced for a month and then a group discussion can occur again at the end.”

With the new 1:1 Program at BEA, where each student is provided with an iPad or Chromebook, technology has been an important topic for the staff.

“The regular time dedicated to technology training is vital to the ongoing success for the 1:1 initiative,”?Schneider adds. “Having time to demonstrate and fully implement some of the new technology strategies ensures staff members are supported in learning more technology-related content.”

Curriculum is also a very important topic for teachers during this time. Discussions for the teachers can revolve around standards for students and ensuring the curriculum for the different grade levels all fall into place.

“Curriculum mapping is a vital part of professional development,” Schneider says. “aligning curriculum and standards between grades ensures that students progress from one grade to the next and that all content is covered adequately to be academically successful.”

However, many may wonder if releasing the students early is affecting their classroom time.

“Compared to last year that is actually decreased overall,”?Schneider explains. “Plus, the effect of professional growth far outweighs the loss of instructional time.”?

And, taking away the two hour late starts and allowing churches to hold their release time classes on Wednesday afternoon instead of during classes, perhaps had given the students more class time and more consistency.

“The prime learning time is right away in the morning so now in the afternoons they can do other activities instead of losing that morning class time,”?Gough says.

That consistency is the overall benefit for both students and staff. Students no longer have to remember which days the two-hour late starts fell on and staff can work on professional development without interruption.