Thirty percent of students depend on school transportation. Fifteen percent of students participate in extracurricular activities. The school attendance zone covers 65 square miles, leading to 25- to 30-minute commutes for some students.
These statistics do not create an atmosphere conducive to after-school tutorials, remediation, and intervention for students who struggle academically. With a focus on continual academic growth, our school improvement team (SIT) sought a strategy to assist students during the school day using an after-school-type setting. On a campus with almost 1,100 students, this was a challenge.
We created Bulldog Block, an intervention period that has moved our school to the top of our district in multiple accountability areas. After much research, we determined that a 40-minute block would best fit our needs for an intervention period.
Steps Toward Implementation
Our primary step in implementing this change was educating faculty, staff, students, and parents. Through faculty meetings, teachers were exposed to the cultural shift that the school was about to undergo. Questions were raised and answered, and adjustments to the intervention time were made based on suggestions. The administration met with students to inform them of the changes. We held evening meetings at our feeder schools for parents. We made announcements at athletic events, sent letters home, programmed automated calls, and used social media.
Planning for Remediation
Some students are required to attend remedia-tion sessions based on current course grades. A student with a D or F in a course must attend the subject they have the D or F in each day. Students are encouraged to attend remediation sessions even if they are not failing or in danger of receiving a failing grade. Many students taking our most challenging courses use this time to solidify their understanding of difficult concepts. Remediation time offers teachers the opportunity to differentiate instruction in small-group settings as opposed to regular classes.
Setting Up the System
At the beginning of the second semester, our SIT created a modified Bulldog Block out of necessity (mainly because of the lack of data available to begin assigning Bulldog Block for the first few weeks). Secondly, our juniors needed additional prep time for the ACT. In order to accommodate this, we assigned all students to report to a specific classroom.
During our modified Bulldog Block, students who failed a first-semester course and were not involved in ACT prep attended credit recovery sessions with teachers in lieu of being placed in an online credit recovery. Face-to-face instruction with a highly qualified teacher provided students with an opportunity that we knew could not be obtained from a computer program.
During spring registration, students and teachers had the opportunity to have purposeful conversations about the student’s current status and future plans. Students were required to obtain teacher recommendations and signatures for registration during this time. (This was done so that the process did not interfere with instructional time.) Bulldog Block also affords time for Advanced Placement Week every year. And each day, a specific content area meets to discuss AP courses within the content area. All teachers attend and describe their expectations.
Bulldog Block also allows our occupational course of study students the opportunity to run their school-based enterprise, Bulldog Brew. As part of this program, students conduct a variety of activities, from advertising to keeping track of money. Bulldog Block also provides the time necessary for both students and staff to visit Bulldog Brew to support our Exceptional Children’s program.
Watching It Work
Upon initial inspection of Bulldog Block, our campus resembled controlled chaos each day from 12:52 until 1:32 p.m. Students who are assigned tutorials have a regular class change time to report to their location and have focused instructional time with a teacher in a small group setting for 40 minutes. Clubs meet and students work in study groups in the media center, cafeteria, or open classrooms. Teachers hold review sessions. AP classes spend time outside in a lab setting. The gym hosts intramural sports. Students meet with counselors. Students who are not involved in the aforementioned activities hang out in the hall or a common area. Teachers work with students, meet with their professional learning community, or work at assigned duty stations. All of these elements come together to create a time of intervention and collaboration—leading to success.
To monitor the effectiveness of an initiative that changed the culture of our school, administrators and the SIT reflect on the following data:
On average, 12–18 percent of our student body is assigned some type of tutorial activity during Bulldog Block, with others attending sessions of their own volition. Percentages do not include students who are in classrooms, the media center, or a homework area working independently.
ACT success: For the 2013 and 2014 administrations respectively, only 47.5 percent and 47.8 percent of our junior class met the state benchmark for ACT scores (17 composite). For the 2015 administration, 66 percent met the benchmark—an 18.2 percent increase. This propelled our school from last to first among traditional high schools in our school district.
Our graduation rate increased from 89.4 percent to 91.5 percent from the previous year. Bulldog Block was a big contributor, thanks to the increased academic time and relationship-building time.
Math course rigor (the percentage of students who are eligible for, enroll in, and complete Math III/Algebra II) is part of our state accountability model. During the 2012–13 school year, 86.8 percent met the standard. For the 2014–15 year, 98.6 percent of graduates successfully completed Math III/Algebra II (the highest percentage in the district).
Tips for Planning
When releasing more than 1,075 high school students for a 40-minute block of time within the school day, planning must be precise. Factors to consider prior to implementation include:
Duty stations. You must ensure that every exit is staffed with a teacher to prevent students from leaving campus or going into unauthorized areas. Additionally, faculty should be stationed in common areas, corridors, and stairwells to ensure student safety.
Content area priority days. Teachers cherish time with students. Be sure there’s a plan in place to ensure equal access to all teachers. Each academic area is given a priority day. If the student is assigned two tutorials in a day, he or she must go to the class with priority, and their other tutorial must be rescheduled.
Consequences for students who go rogue. Inevitably, some students are not going to follow directions. Establish tiered consequences to encourage students to avoid these behaviors.
Modified schedule for freshmen. We chose to create a modified schedule for freshmen, during which they returned to a regular class each day during Bulldog Block. For example, on Monday freshmen returned to first period, on Tuesday they returned to second period, and so on. During the course of the first quarter, freshmen were provided more opportunities for freedom before finally being able to fully utilize Bulldog Block.
Inclement weather and crisis plan. Be sure to build intervention time into your inclement weather and crisis plans. Keeping everyone on the same page during chaotic times is beneficial.
Sidebar: Making it Work
Keeping in mind there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, there are several important factors in daily high school life that principals must consider while planning their own version of Bulldog Block.
Sign-outs. When parents call to sign students out, it is impossible to pinpoint the classroom where the student will be located. You’ll need to consider your strategies: Do you want to interrupt intervention using an all-call? Do you allow students to carry cellphones so their parents can text them?
Leaving campus. Some schools allow students to leave campus during this time, especially if the intervention includes lunch (as an incentive for students). Parents must give permission, and students have to be back on campus by a certain time.
Cellphones. Are cellphones worth the fight during intervention? Clear expectations must be set and adhered to by all faculty and staff.
Assigning intervention. Schools must decide what mandates students to attend intervention. Teacher discretion? A certain grade? Attending a certain number of tutorials per semester/year? A method of tracking attendance is critical for program progress monitoring.
Chris Bennett, EdD, is principal at Washington Elementary School in Shelby, NC. Chris Blanton, EdD, is principal at Burns High School in Lawndale, NC.