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Students study during break

Program helps kids catch up with topics they don't quite understand

Posted: April 13, 2009 1:47 a.m.
Updated: April 13, 2009 4:55 a.m.

McGrath Elementary School first-grader Esmerala Morales puts letters in order using the computer smart board's projected image as she works on her language arts skills Wednesday.

It may be spring break for nearly every student in the Santa Clarita Valley, but at McGrath Elementary School, the vacation gives 262 youngsters a chance to spruce up their language-arts, reading and math skills.

And the kids taking part in the special school time, known as intersession, don't mind too much.

"It's worth it to come so I can get my grades up," sixth-grader Michelle Huerta said.

Michelle is on intersession to catch up on concepts she didn't completely learn the first time they were taught in the classroom.

"We learn the same thing we didn't really understand so we can understand it more," she said.

Playing Juliet in her sixth-grade class's performance of "Romeo and Juliet" allowed her to boost her language-arts skills while take part in a play she enjoys.

A quarter of the school's population is enrolled in intersession at the McGrath campus in Newhall, Heather Haggart, student-program coordinator for McGrath, said.

The school began offering intersession three years ago.

"We felt that we had students who were behind," Haggart said.

Intersession allows students to spruce up their math and language-arts skills that they've learned when school is in full session, she said.

"We like it because it gives them more frequent practice time," Haggart said.

The school strives to underscore the notion that intersession is not a punishment, Haggart said. Instead, it's needs-based.

A month before intersession, McGrath teachers review test data to determine if any student is behind on learning, Haggart said.

Students that are found to be behind are invited to participate in intersession.

Of the half-day intersession schedule, about two hours is dedicated to uninterrupted instruction time focused on language arts and reading, Haggart said. Just as when school is in session, students take a brunch break and return to class for math lessons until the school day is over just after noon, she said.

Rather than using lectures as a primary tool, intersession boosts skills through interactive educational games, student-run plays and small group assignments.

"The pace is a little slower. They have more time to practice," Haggart said.

Class sizes are limited to about 20 students, while classes for K-3 intersession students typically have between 10 and 15 youngsters. These size limits are intended to encourage more student-teacher interaction, Haggart said.

In one sixth-grade classroom recently, students acted out "Romeo and Juliet" as a way to improve their reading and language-arts skills.

Second-graders used the classroom's smart board and interactive white boards to re-learn multiplication, a common stumbling block among second-graders who are first introduced to multiplication in winter, she said.

So far, intersession works.

Student test scores are up and English-language learners, in particular, show a lot of progress in their education, Haggart said.

The boost in learning leads to personal growth.

"We're building confidence and building skills for them throughout the year," Haggart said.

Intersession students have more school days and typically go from the standard 180 days to 200 days, Haggart said.

Even though the selected students take part in two weeks of intersession, Friday is the last day, so McGrath's intersession students still have a full week off from school since McGrath has a three-week spring break.


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