High school considers move to Trimesters to enhance learning

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Switzerland County High School principal Candis Haskell and her staff have been researching the idea of converting the high school to Trimesters for the past two years.

For many parents and residents of Switzerland County, the first question is a simple one:

What’s a Trimester?

Going to a trimester scheduling system involves reformulating the school’s day and year. Traditionally, a school has two 18-week long semesters, with a nine weeks grading period halfway through each semester.

With trimesters, students would instead have three 12-week trimester grading periods. Students would receive a progress report at the six week mark, but official grades would be tabulated at the end of each 12-week period.

So what are other differences?

The biggest one would be that students would have fewer classes, and would spend more time in each class. Currently, high school students take seven classes, which meet for approximately 47 minutes each day.

Under the trimester system, students would only take five classes, but would be in each class approximately 70 minutes each day.

Under the old system, a student would be able to take 14 classes a year – seven per semester. With trimesters, a student would be able to take 15 – five in each of the three trimesters.

“That extra class gives our students the opportunity to take some other course offerings that they may not have been able to work in under a semester system,” Principal Haskell said. “It will give our students much more flexibility in scheduling.”

It will also give students who struggle in a class the chance to get things corrected before moving on.

“Let’s use math as an example,” Candis Haskell said. “Currently, if a student doesn’t pass the first semester of Algebra I, that student still goes on to the second semester of Algebra I, because that’s the only option. With a trimester set up, if a student doesn’t pass the first trimester, he or she can go back and retake the first trimester during the second trimester, and then get caught up before taking the second half of the class during the third trimester.”

The longer class periods will also enable teachers to get more in depth with experiments and discussions with students, because there will be more time for alternative types of learning.

“With the current set up, the teacher is responsible for taking attendance and other paperwork needed at the beginning of each class, and that takes 5-10 minutes,” Candis Haskell said. “Then you figure that they are going to review for a few minutes so that students are up on what they need to remember, and at the end of class there’s some ‘shutting down’ time to get students ready to leave for their next class. With all of that, our teachers really only have about 15-20 minutes of actual teaching time.”

Traditional semester classes, such as Government and Economics that are required for seniors, will now be a trimester long. The learning time is the same, because the class period each day is longer.

The new program also helps out vocational students, who in the past have had problems fitting required classes into a limited schedule after returning from the Career Center at noon.

The new scheduling won’t affect them, but with classes changing twice instead of once, those students will have less trouble getting their required classes scheduled.

“We’re hoping to add different classes that will give our students more choices,” the principal said. “I don’t know what we’re going to be able to do this first year, but right now we’re working with classes that we already have.”

Candis Haskell said that incoming freshmen will have the opportunity to earn 60 credits in high school, where only 46 are required. She said that the administration may discuss raising the required number to 48 in the future, if trimesters are approved.

She also said that she would like to add a component to graduation requirements that would include either job shadowing, an internship, or a service learning project for students.

“We’d like to have some type of credit that they would have to earn somewhere out in the ‘real world’ for one trimester,” Candis Haskell said.

For teachers and staff, trimesters means fewer times that students are in the hallways. Now, students pass in the hallways six times a day. If trimesters are approved, that will fall to three times a day.

With the high school staff onboard with the concept – and nearly all of them having traveled to a school that is currently using trimesters – the decision now rests in the hands of the school board, which is expected to consider the matter at its meeting this Monday.

“We just felt like we weren’t making effective use of our time with students,” Candis Haskell said. “Teachers will get to spend more time one on one with students, and some team teaching will also be added to the schedule.”