What Happens When You Give 45 Minutes?

In 2011,  admin and the board reflected on how the extended day was being utilized to empower students. For those of you who do not know, Feaster Charter has an extra 45 minutes built into our school day which our teachers and staff are compensated for. This extended day is part of our charter and our promise to the community. Very often, in many classrooms, this extended day was becoming a catch-up time to make up for what was not done in the day. I am embarrassed to say that I was part of this, very often, those 45 minutes in my class were focused on test prep or intensive small group interventions. While these are still important – I am not saying they are not important and should be omitted, both have their time and purpose – test prep and catch up time does very little to actually empower students and help them discover new interests and passions. Over the past six years when electives have been incorporated into our daily schedules, I have been amazed by what comes out when teachers and students are given forty-five minutes to share their interests. I will admit, at first, I had concerns that we were veering too far from the curriculum in many classrooms, including my own elective which focused on vlogging and blogging about topics of student interest. However, I am amazed by what has come out of these electives and I am beyond proud of some of the teachers who are really bringing in their own passions and getting students to explore new opportunities.

Keeping Students Inspired

At the end of last year, I was talking with one student who was having a particularly hard day. She was telling me about how frustrated she was that she was not learning things that actually mattered to her. Right away, I realized that she was very emotional and needed to be reminded of the opportunities that she could make for herself because of the programs being offered at Feaster.

We sat together outside and I pulled out my phone and showed her all of the elective classes that she had to choose from. We looked through all of the available electives that quarter. I asked her what she felt was important to learn. She shared that she wanted to learn about making a budget, investing and figuring out how much money she would need to live comfortably. These were the things that mattered to her – finances. Right away, we found a middle school elective course that would teach her these exact skills.

Upon pointing out the opportunities that she was being provided and showing her how her voice and choice were being applied to her academics and everyday education, her attitude changed. While she was still unsure about the immediate and long-term purpose of learning certain standards, recognizing that her academic needs and her academic wishes were being heard and applied made a difference in how she saw her schooling here at Feaster.

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Vertical Connections

Numerous teachers have come together and applied their own interests and strengths to bring great opportunities to our learners. It is especially powerful when teachers from multiple grade levels and specialty areas come together to empower our students. Mrs. Boolen in 7th grade, Mrs. Diaz in Mindlabs science, Ms. Haggard in TK, Mr. Fraser in 8th grade, and Mr. Wylie in 6th grade have all come together in one way or another to help support Feaster Farm – our on site hydroponic Greenhouse! Mrs. Boolin’s Digital Media elective students are working to design a Feaster Farm logo, Mrs. Diaz has supported with teaching the science behind the program, Ms. Haggard’s TK students studied worms and bred them and are now giving them to Feaster Farm, Mr. Fraser’s elective students are at the forefront of the program and running the greenhouse and Mr. Wylie shared his expertise with tilapia farming and donated the tilapia that are now housed in the hydroponic greenhouse! These are just five connections that I have heard about, but I am sure in one way or another, we have all had an integral part in making this opportunity possible for our students.

The vertical and cross-curricular connections that are happening because we gave staff and students forty-five minutes to explore their interests are working to empower our students because it is teaching them to go beyond the state curriculum, apply their learning from their entire time in school, and do something that they have ownership in! Not only are we giving our students the opportunity to apply voice and choice when they choose what electives they will participate in, but we are giving them the opportunity to learn about things that matter to them. We are also helping our students learn about new potential opportunities and careers when we create and plan purposeful elective courses.

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School Culture

Several of the electives on campus work to make learning and school a more positive experience for all learners. These electives create a product, plan events, and even help build relationships with all grade levels.

Mrs. Medina’s elective does an amazing job of building relationships across all grade levels! Through her Service Learning elective, students explore ways to give back to our community and build relationships to connect with other students regardless of grade level. This can help form bonds across campus while teaching students the importance of philanthropic work.

Mrs. Trujillo’s ASB class is in charge of coordinating our school spirit days and they work to bring about programs that will truly have a positive impact on our school. At the foundational level, Mrs. Trujillo’s students are learning about government and building relationships while working together to publicize school events. Through this, they are subtly learning the art of government, marketing, counseling, negotiation, and many more important life skills!

Each elective that is taught on campus and each teacher in kinder and first who are working to provide their students with time to explore, communicate, and try out new things, is working to empower our learners!

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Student Discourse

Electives are easily my favorite time to go around and take pictures and hear about student learning. One of my favorite videos is from a VAPA class where the student is explaining how he made a painting in honor of Lady Gaga because he respected her talent; it is not that he respected Lady Gaga that amazed me, it was how in-depth he went to explain his artwork, the terms he used to describe his work and how enthusiastic he was about his final product.

As I go around, I hear students talking about their learning and sharing their projects and I am always amazed by how much knowledge they need to have to actually converse about what they are doing. In all grade levels, I hear their academic vocabulary and how they use their character strengths to participate and take part in their elective class. While this happens throughout the day, it is so refreshing to see and hear students show sincere interest in something that is still connected to their academic learning.

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A Sincere Thank You

It is clear how much thought and effort our teachers have put into the additional 45 minute extended school day that we have here at Feaster. I am incredibly proud that this is something that we are able to offer to our students. It is not only a great way to get to know more about our learners, but it is a true opportunity to allow them to express their voice and choice. I look forward to reflecting on how this time is used and seeing how these programs and opportunities have flourished.

For Further Reading:

3 Myths About Empowering Students Today by George Couros 

Want to Boost Your Bottom Line? Encourage Your Employees to Work on Side Projects by Adam Robinson

You Get to Have your Own Genius Hour by John Spencer

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