In the middle of Bob Bartlett’s classroom, three sophomores are sharing a table made for two.
Courtney Jucht, Lauren House and Alex Fabbiano have textbooks and notebooks open. The University High School biology students are struggling to understand meiosis vs. mitosis - basic processes of cell division.
“There are so many terms that we don’t understand,” explained Jucht.
“I was up doing biology homework until 1:30 a.m.,” she said. “Then my mom came in and said, ‘Go to bed. Homework isn’t that important.”’ This is not biology class. It’s TAP, an acronym for tutorial/advisory period. It starts at 9 a.m. every day in Central Valley School District’s two high schools.
The 30-minute period is new this year. It’s part of Central Valley’s new four-period day schedule. School officials rolled several ideas into TAP. It’s partly a chance for students to bond, partly a chance for academic help. It also allows a handy time for assemblies, clubs and other activities, without interrupting any of the 80-minute class periods.
Bartlett has created an interactive study hall in the 30-minute tutorial period. His room is jammed with his own TAP students and sophomore biology students who want extra time or help. Students can get TAP passes to their English teacher’s room, or to any teacher they feel they need help from.
In one corner, a student watches a biology video that she missed last week. In another corner, two Russian students work on a computer at their own pace. One student reads a paperback. Almost everyone is working.
Bartlett helps with biology, of course. If students in his TAP class need help in other subjects - math, for instance - they turn to each other.
“I’d have to take the math class again before I could help,” Bartlett said.
“It’s as close to individualized instruction as you can get, when most of your classes have 30 kids in them,” he said. “I can spend 20 minutes with five or six kids on a lab.”
The row of computers along the back of Bartlett’s class is filled with students who are taking, or retaking, biology labs. They must pass the labs with a score of 90 or better. Some are working their way through the questions a second time. One student says she’s on her fourth time through.
“I’m not a very good biology student,” she said, “I still don’t understand it.”
The advisory period, usually held two or three days a week, centers around mini-lessons on study skills, test-taking skills and the like.
TAP is a work in progress.
Seniors have been the program’s biggest critics, administrators say.
They want more tutorial time, said University High School Principal Erik Ohlund, and they say the mini-lessons aren’t useful for them. They’ve all heard about study skills before. Seniors also want to be grouped with other seniors, instead of being grouped with underclassmen.
Principal Ohlund and Mike Pearson, Central Valley School District’s director of secondary education, say they believe there’s plenty of potential to be developed in TAP.
Ohlund told of watching one teacher headed down the hall, with his TAP students’ progress reports in hand.
“He was checking with their teachers, to see what he could do to support those kids,” said Ohlund.
Of the three sophomores who were brainstorming their way through their biology homework, only one had raves for the advisory portion of TAP.
Lauren House, enjoys her TAP teacher, Tricia Roeber.
“We do fun things, we get to know each other. There’s a lot of talk about activities and other things we can do,” House said. Sometimes, members of the class read aloud. Roeber even remembers the sophomores’ names, House said.
Other students were less happy.
“We just do our own thing. No one talks. There’s no bonding,” complained one student.
“It’s not great, but I can live with it,” said one.
Officials point out that the program is brand new.
“We don’t want to jump off this horse yet. We want to improve it,” Ohlund said.
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