It was a novelty five years ago, but the four-period high school day is now the rule rather than the exception in some counties, including Carroll, Howard and Frederick.
Beginning today, four of Carroll's five high schools will have schedules in which students have four 90-minute classes each day that last a semester instead of a year, just as in college. In January, they move to four more courses.
Eight of Howard County's 10 high schools have some variation on that schedule.
Peter Litchka, the former North Carroll High School teacher who pioneered the change in his school in 1993, likened the student with a traditional seven-period high school schedule to an adult having seven bosses to please each day.
North Carroll Principal Kent Kreamer agrees.
"When children have a chance to concentrate on four classes instead of seven, it gives them more of a chance to be successful," Kreamer said.
At his school, the honor roll is getting longer, failure rates have gone down and attendance is up.
This past school year, North Carroll had the highest attendance rate of any high school in the county's history -- 95.03 percent, a full percentage point higher than the next highest in Carroll.
It's no surprise that the rest of the county schools took notice. Westminster High, South Carroll High and Francis Scott Key High all make the change to four periods today.
Liberty High School's staff looked at about three different proposals for changing its schedule, but decided to wait at least a year before making any changes, said Gayle McAdams, assistant principal there.
"It usually takes a cycle of two or three years before you make a movement," she said.
Liberty is starting a year later than the other schools because it was in the middle of a routine reaccreditation when the idea was broached in Carroll.
Statewide, more schools each year convert to the schedule. The esteemed City College, a Baltimore magnet high school, will have such a schedule for students when classes begin next week. Patterson High School in East Baltimore is using the schedule as part of its state-ordered reconstitution.
Five years ago, Gov. Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick became the first in Maryland to take the plunge.
The school had a steady stream of visitors who heard students and teachers say the schedule gives them more time to focus on their work and on each other.
George Phillips, principal at Francis Scott Key High School, said his staff is looking forward to the change.
"First of all, it will kind of calm the day down -- there will be fewer class changes," he said.
But students can take more classes per year -- eight instead of seven. This gives students more time in their schedules for electives and for advanced courses and more chances for retaking a class they fail. Teachers will have 90 minutes of planning time a day instead of 45 minutes as under the old seven-period day.
The school applied for and got a grant from USF&G; insurance company to bring in teachers for an extra day of training Friday to work on lesson plans and make sure the 90-minute periods are used well. That was in addition to training the school system had provided. Teachers have said the change is not as simple as tacking two 45-minute periods together, and it requires them to engage students in more activities and reduce the amount of lecture time.
But in some disciplines, such as science, teachers have clamored for the longer periods. At Westminster High School three years ago, when not all the faculty was ready for a four-period day, a few science teachers worked out a pilot program to have the longer period in their classes.
"I know from being a science teacher," Phillips said, "most of the time when you were doing a lab, you'd just get started when you had to start closing down again. It seemed like you were always setting up and tearing down, and you never got all your results."
Phillips said that as he went to schools in Frederick and Howard counties to interview students and teachers, he asked the same question: Would you go back to a seven-period day?
"To a person, they said no."
Pub Date: 8/26/96