Schedule shift supports social-emotional learning
The Pathways integration across District 191 has reached school schedules. Starting in fall 2020-2021, the Advisory period was evolved to build in social-emotional learning curriculum and career and college readiness at the middle and high school levels.
Frannie Becquer, former assistant principal at Burnsville High School and now principal at Nicollet Middle School, said this change does a number of important things, including: developing healthy and intentional ways to help students explore in a safe, nonacademic environment, and building another natural bridge between middle and high school.
“We’re looking at increasing student agency, building up opportunity knowledge — which is the college and career readiness piece — and making sure students understand what an academically rigorous path is, why it’s important, and how they can access it,” Becquer said.
According to Becquer, there’s an increased level of intentionality with the enriched Advisory period that reaches far beyond the sometimes shapeless version of homeroom that’s etched in the minds of parents.
“As of right now, AVID (Advancement through Individual Determination), peer mentoring, and specific social-emotional learning curriculum are the inputs for Advisory,” Becquer said. “We’ve identified the tools, but we’ll continue to work on the proper balance as we move forward.”
Additionally, both the Math and English & Language Arts (ELA) blocks at the middle school level were altered for students to receive more assistance and reinforce understanding. In the past, these instruction times were intentionally broken up to compliment one another, but one of the biggest challenges was that the instructors weren’t consistent. For example, math instructors weren’t necessarily assigned to the same set of students for intervention (assistance). Becquer said that the new middle school schedule provides that consistency.
"We’re looking at increasing student agency, building up opportunity knowledge — which is the college and career readiness piece — and making sure students understand what an academically rigorous path is, why it’s important, and how they can access it."
- Frannie Becquer, Assistant Principal
“Ideally, if you want to move kids forward, the teacher that’s doing the intervention and instruction should be the same person,” she said. “We decided to move to a block schedule to give students that continuity in their education. We didn’t add more time or instruction, but we fused these blocks together for efficiency.”
Another one of the benefits of reimagining the school schedule at the middle school level is the opportunity to weave the honors program through intentional differentiation in the classroom.
To do this, District 191 science teachers are working with a nationally recognized trainer to build their capacity for this teaching model. Additionally, all teachers are receiving training from a professor of gifted and talented students from Hamline University to develop the right kinds of challenges for their diverse classrooms.
“Typically, honors classes at the middle school level have simply required more work, but we’re accessing what we believe are tools to help us find a better way forward,” Becquer said. “Honors isn’t about more work, it’s about how students are engaged and challenged to think more critically.
“We’re more interested in rigorous thinking.”