When school doesn’t stop: APS Fifth block heats up with summer

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For the second year in a row, Dezzy Wells decided to give up a good chunk of her summer vacation.

Shortly after Wells, 16, finished her sophomore year at Rangeview High School in May, she reported to the nearly empty school for the Aurora Public Schools’ Fifth Block program, an initiative that connects about one out of ten students districtwide with an additional 23 days of instruction. Wells, who spoke during a literacy class toward the end of nearly four weeks of additional classes, didn’t seem bothered by the fact that she was in school while most of her peers were on break.

Instead, she seemed relieved.

“It was something I needed … It’s one-on-one help, there’s not that many kids in the class. You’re all on the same page,” Wells said. “We learn things that you might learn in class, but they go into more detail, like taking a big book and not panicking because it looks big. We take it apart. We do entries on them. It’s okay to read a few pages and then summarize those pages so that after you read the book, you get the book … Completely.”

Since the Fifth Block program essentially runs for the whole month of June and classes in APS begin in early August, Wells will essentially have about a month of summer vacation. But her eagerness and commitment stood out to the program’s administrators, who invited Wells back for a second year. That invitation doesn’t come easily – the district chooses participants carefully based on test scores and potential for academic growth; what’s more, students can get kicked out based on poor attendance.

Students in this year’s program weren’t the only ones who praised the smaller classrooms and greater attention to individual achievement. Bob Bushman, a math teacher who’s been with the district for 23 years, taught his first Fifth Block math class this summer, a Core 2 course that stressed basic skills like percentages, quadrant formula and surface area.

“What I’ve tried to do is hit a variety of things that they would get in a Core 2 class. Hopefully, when they move on to Core 3, this will give them some of the basic skills, plus a leg up,” said Bushman, who was paid on a per diem basis for his summer work. “Somewhere along the line, these kids weren’t successful in a math class. I can picture a lot of these kids in a really big class where they just got lost … Here, they’re all on the same ground. They’re all working. They’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

Now in its fifth year, the Fifth Block program kicked off after the district’s successful passage of a mill levy override in 2008. That financial support has allowed the district to invite about 4,000 students who have shown growth in math and literacy to take extra classes at no extra cost; it’s also allowed administrators to closely track the impact of additional instruction days on academic achievement and test scores.

Data culled from students’ achievement scores in the Fifth Block program show an overall trend toward improvement. Students from the 2010 Fifth Block program enrolled in the 4th to 10th grade showed higher median growth percentiles on the 2011 Colorado State Assessment Program test. Specifically, they show an improvement of eight points over their peers in math. In reading, Fifth Block students’ scores were up four points and in writing, the positive difference was two points.

Statistics also show that attendance rates for Fifth Block classes exceeded 90 percent. Those high figures reflect the fact that students are selected to participate in the program, and that high numbers of absences can quickly void that invitation.

APS Superintendent John Barry cited those figures for students during a visit to Rangeview on June 21.

“I’ve got data to show that this is an excellent program, that it makes a big difference in scores,” Barry said. “Each year we show more and more progress as we go along … In 2011, 25 percent of the students who’d taken Fifth Block last year were in their second year, 9 percent did it for three years and four percent did it for four years.

“This is one of those things where somebody offered you something, and you guys grabbed it,” Barry added.

Speaking to a literacy class of mostly incoming juniors, Barry cited the example set by former Central High School student Shiva Sapkota. Born in a Nepalese refugee camp after his parents were forced to flee Bhutan, Sapkota arrived in Aurora as an official refugee, a high school freshman who’d grown up in a house of bamboo and straw and went to school with bare feet.

“He took advantage of every single thing in high school. If there was a club he tried to join it. If there was a sport, he tried to be part of it,” Barry said. “This guy took advantage of every single opportunity that he could get his hands on. That’s what I look for when I hire people.”

The final part of that message resonated with Quinnton Burton, 17, a student in the Fifth Block literacy class who will enter Rangeview as a senior next year. Burton said he’s already thinking of a specific academic path beyond high school, one that will land him a job as a mechanical engineer.

“I heard it was a good program to gain credits fast,” said Burton, who was simultaneously enrolled in literacy, algebra and geometry classes this summer. “It’s a rush, but it’s a rush where you can get stuff done.”

 

Reach reporter Adam Goldstein at [email protected] or 720-449-9707

 

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gofastgo
gofastgo
10 years ago

Is anyone started to wonder where all the education funds go?  Not I, these are the same kids who won’t pay attention in school, now there’s another ‘program’.  Funny thing is that all the celebration that goes with it,