Right on schedule, school tries new tack Seeking flexibility, N. Carroll High lengthens classes


Veteran teachers at North Carroll High School are getting the end-of-summer butterflies that novices usually get.

That's because they face a change this year: Class periods will be twice as long, 90 minutes instead of 45, with four class periods a day instead of seven.

Courses that used to last a year will last a semester, and those that used to last a semester will last only a quarter -- nine weeks.

Can teachers hold the students' attention for 90 minutes? Teachers and students seem willing to give it a try. But at least one student knows her teachers will have to use some new strategies.

"I'm afraid the classes will get boring," said Diana Vaughan, 13, who is beginning her freshman year. "But if we have less lecturing and paperwork, and more group labs, we can accomplish more in class and still have fun."

Diana's perspective as a student is not much different from what school officials have been saying -- that teachers will need to lecture less and have students work more.

For the past year, the staff, students and parents at North Carroll have been studying and preparing for the "four-mod day" -- "mod" meaning module, or class period.

The point of the change is to give teachers more flexibility in meeting students' individual needs, Principal Gregory Eckles said.

Students will have a chance to earn 32 credits in their four years, instead of 28.

TH "I think this is one of the most exciting things [in my career], but

not for the reason you expect," Dr. Eckles said.

"This change really is not that big a change. But what I perceive is, down the road, this change will allow us to do other, more significant changes."

For example, Dr. Eckles said, if one student can learn algebra in nine weeks but another student needs 27 weeks, the four-period day will make it easier to meet each student's needs.

Students who failed general science last year can take it during the first semester this year, then catch up with their classmates and take biology in the second semester.

"It will be good because we'll have less homework," said Diana, although that might not hold true for her second semester, when she will have four straight academic courses.

Here's Diana's schedule: In the first quarter, she'll take general typing, physical fitness and weight training, health and English.

In the second quarter, she'll continue her English class but take physical education, a computer literacy course and art history.

In the second semester, she'll take French, social studies, chemistry and geometry.

The idea of four-period days is catching on in Maryland. Last year, Governor Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick became the first in Maryland to institute the longer periods.

Now several schools are following suit.

North Carroll is the first in Carroll County to try the concept, but Westminster and South Carroll high schools are considering the schedule for next year.

Teachers at North Carroll voted to take on the challenge even before Dr. Eckles asked Superintendent R. Edward Shilling for approval.

The school improvement team also endorsed it, and a survey of parents who attended two informational meetings showed that a majority supported the idea.

Teachers are starting to feel the September jitters, even such veterans as John Lynam, who has 19 years of experience teaching.

"Excited, anxious, anxiety -- I would say those are the three words. Different people have them in different proportions," said Mr. Lynam, the science department chairman at North Carroll.

French teacher Elizabeth Foyle said she feels a "nervous excitement."

After 13 years of teaching, she said, "I have to rethink everything I do."

She said she had been concerned about how to structure her time. But, after meetings with other teachers in her department, she has devised ways to make the most of the 90-minute periods.

"We can use more creative dialogue," she said. For example, she can do a whole day of learning greetings, instead of separate lessons on "Hello," "How do you do?" and "What is your name?"

"You can make it a more natural conversation in 90 minutes," she said.

Teachers also will use cooperative learning methods -- having students work together, often complementing each other's strengths.

"I have done that for a long time," Ms. Foyle said.

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