Sometimes, it’s good to do things a little differently.
That’s the conclusion Seymour High School Principal Greg Prange arrived at when contemplating how to handle growing enrollment and increase student opportunities for academic success while creating a positive school culture and climate.
His solution? Power Hour.
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Instead of three separate 30-minute lunch periods, Prange and his staff have implemented a new Power Hour program, giving all 1,368 students the same one-hour break from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each day.
It’s up to the students how they use that time.
They can eat the first or second half of the hour in the cafeteria or other designated areas in the school and then spend the rest of the time studying, making up a missed test or homework, getting one-on-one tutoring from a teacher, participating in an academic or extracurricular club, playing an intramural sport or just socializing with their friends.
Class periods were shortened by six minutes, going from 90 minutes to 84, to have a full hour available for lunch. Power Hour also prevents students and staff from experiencing split classes and other interruptions.
With a growing number of students riding the bus, Prange said before Power Hour, there was no time before or after school for students to seek help from teachers or make up work during regular class time.
Other things he noticed were low student participation, just 36 percent, in extracurricular activities; too many students, 400 to 450, were being confined in a small area making it loud and difficult to move around during lunch; and there wasn’t enough time for students to interact, visit and have lunch with their friends.
He hopes by giving students some “free time” during the school day, attendance will increase, more students will get involved in activities, grades will improve, more students will graduate and there will be fewer discipline issues.
Only time will tell, but Prange and his staff said they are optimistic.
Since Power Hour began March 21, it has been a learning experience for all, but it seems to be having a positive effect on students and teachers, Prange said.
“So far, so good,” Prange said. “I know that some people thought we were out of our minds trying an initiative such as this. It’s still early, and we are learning every day.”
There have been some issues to work out, such as most students wanting to eat the first half of Power Hour, but Prange said that is to be expected when trying anything new.
“We’ve had some issues arise, and we knew we would, and we’ve addressed them,” he said.
The biggest reason he believes in Power Hour is that it requires students to be more mature.
“I think the kids appreciate the freedom of being able to make choices,” he said. “We’re letting them grow up and giving them more responsibilities, and they are rising to the occasion.”
Sophomore Elliott Hughel said he spends his time during Power Hour getting help from teachers or studying in the library.
“It’s a great opportunity for students to do things that they aren’t able to do outside of school,” he said. “We now have more time for lunch and are able to get help from teachers.”
With more trust from administrators and teachers, Hughel said most students want to prove they are responsible and will act appropriately.
English teacher Laura Cottrill said she has seen a change in the school culture in the short amount of time Power Hour has been in place.
“Students are behaving very maturely, acting happier and most are using their time wisely,” she said. “SHS feels like a mini college campus, and it makes me proud to be an Owl.”
Teachers also have 30 minutes to eat lunch and then 30 minutes of office hours when they can meet with students.
“If a student has a missing assignment, a teacher can assign the student to attend their office hours to work on it,” Prange said. “Teachers have reported that students are doing more homework because they don’t want to lose their free time.”
Science teacher Paula Weaver said Power Hour is all about giving students opportunities and choices.
“It gives students the opportunity to become involved in more activities and go to teachers for help,” she said. “I also have students who have been absent coming in to make up work.”
Having additional time for learning allows for more individualized instruction, reteaching and enrichment, she added.
“I hold Biology Club meetings, test reviews and I have just added AP Biology Exam prep for students who want to come in three days a week,” she said. “Today, I had more than 20 students in my room getting help and completing work.”
Although there were concerns Power Hour would result in extra work for custodians, Prange said that hasn’t been the case.
“So far, students have done a good job of throwing their trash away,” he said. “I’ve even seen students pick up trash in the hallway that isn’t theirs because they don’t want to lose Power Hour.”
If things were to get out of hand or students start abusing the privileges, Prange said the school will go back to the old way of doing lunch.
Freshman Zoie Cooley said she loves Power Hour and will do whatever it takes to keep it.
“It gives us more time to get help from teachers and more social time,” she said. “I usually spend my time hanging out with my friends and asking questions about homework. Sometimes, me and my friend go to the art room to work on our projects. I also like spending time in Mr. (Erik) Stangland’s room.”
Stangland teaches English and theater.
While Power Hour is new to Seymour, Prange said he didn’t come up with it. He said he got the idea from an article he read in the February 2014 issue of Principal Leadership magazine.
The article’s author, Jayne Ellspermann, is the principal of West Port High School in Ocala, Florida. She came up with the idea and implemented it at West Port. The school is now in its fifth year of having Power Hour.
“Course failure rates plummeted, participation in co-curricular activities skyrocketed, discipline referrals declined dramatically, school pride blossomed and the school earned a state grade of A,” Ellspermann wrote.
Prange made contact with Ellspermann, who reviewed Prange’s plans and said it would work.
And so far, it is.
Sophomore Ben Everage said it’s important for students to have a break during the day to take their mind off learning and just hang out with friends before getting back to work.
“I believe that if we can keep this up, our homework percentages will go up, which leads to better test scores and a better school rating overall, and that leads to better teaching and better leaders,” he said.
Everage said he believes in Prange’s vision and in his fellow students’ ability to make that vision a reality.
“Mr. Prange has really (gone) out on a limb, but he has faith in his students that we will keep the campus clean, get our work done and have a good, healthy environment,” Everage said.