Thom Schnellinger: Help kids put down video games, read instead
September 19, 2013
Craig — Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part commentary about education in Moffat County.
In conceiving this commentary, I wish to place forth that any small community is great to the degree to which it rolls up its sleeves and supports its schools. I desire to seek a greater conversation, offer more information and help people understand our work.
Our work includes adding Silent Sustained Reading. We have introduced SSR for 30 minutes every day. The entire school "stands down" and reads during this time. As we looked at scores and observed our students, their success or failure in high school was linked directly to their reading skill and literacy; students that do not read well struggle in high school and after. There are many reasons for this, but I will point out that leisure reading rarely is the youthful hobby it once was. Reading has been supplanted by other activities such as video gaming, social networking and many other popular modes of entertainment. On a personal note, the best thing that ever happened to my son was when his Nintendo broke after he owned it for only six weeks. Because it was not repaired, he picked up a book instead, and reading became his passion. He majored in writing and literature in college and currently is student-teaching middle school English. Coincidence? I wonder. The bottom line is that our children need to read more in the text rich landscape of books and electronic media. SSR addresses this. Ask your child, "What are you reading today?" My goal is that every student will be engaged in a book, magazine or e-reader on a daily basis.
We have interventions (additional academic help for students who are struggling) during SSR. The teachers within the department determine this student support. We already have started supports in math, reading and literacy. We will extend these interventions as needed to other areas such as science, chemistry and physics. The new schedule has benefited us as never before, and we are very excited about the possibilities of your student's success.
We have increased graduation requirements with additional math and science credits. This is changing from two credits to three in each area. This requirement starts with the Class of 2016. As we looked at ACT scores, the difference between students with additional math and science compared to those without was a full four-point difference. Core-enriched (more math and science) students averaged 21 on the ACT; students without core enrichment scored 16 points or less. Sixteen on an ACT offers very few opportunities for our students. It is our responsibility to challenge our students with a rigorous graduation requirement and course offerings. All students deserve the best opportunities for success in their post-high school years.
Moffat County High School also is encouraging students to take the more difficult classes by offering them an enhanced grade scale: 4.0 for regular classes, 4.5 for identified "honors" classes and 5.0 for advanced placement courses. We feel that this will award those students that take the challenge to engage in advanced coursework.
We are devoted to focusing on literacy. The English department has been challenged to increase literacy through more reading and more nonfiction writing. It is leading the charge and challenging the other content areas, i.e. social studies and science. Research has shown that focus on nonfiction writing reaps significant student growth in literacy. This is the department’s work and challenge.
The district and community have made a significant commitment to increasing technology access across the school district. The high school staff is devoted to acquiring and using technology that enhances, empowers and engages instruction and student learning. This area has some of the most exciting innovations for student writing. The schedule change will create extended time for these technologies.
With the above considered, it is paramount that the educational staff keep their eye on the ball. Our main focus of instruction is to meet all students' needs. Our schedule is one way to ramp that up and engage your child in a unique and differentiated manner.
Finally, as you might consider alternative types of education, i.e. public online, private online, home school, et al., my hope is that you will choose wisely, be informed and use the same measures that are applied to your local high school, (i.e. TCAP scores, ACT scores and graduation rates). I always will applaud the world of educational choice afforded by the Colorado state Legislature. We, too, have a reinvigorated alternative high school that focuses on the unique needs of the student. The YES Alternative School offers a fully scalable curriculum with Work OJ programs, full MCHS elective opportunities and college dual-credit enrollment access. Additionally, the district is offering the Colorado Youth for Change program that addresses students at risk for dropping out of high school and guides them toward a structured GED/college-technical school training program. Address any inquiries to our counselors. They are ready to help.
To conclude, I would challenge the community to engage its schools, ask hard questions and listen for answers. Pointing fingers and making accusations without facts or meeting with knowledgeable individuals does not build community; it tears down and ruins the positive nature of our small town. I will engage anyone, anywhere, in a conversation about our work with our children. I think we have set forth a very ambitious path for the future. Join us, challenge us, grow with us. Let's roll up our sleeves and together do this hard work. Consider MCHS as your hometown school.
Thom Schnellinger is the principal of Moffat County High School.