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Longer days for Willmar students next year

WILLMAR — The school day will be getting longer for students at Willmar’s middle and high schools next year.

The Willmar School Board approved longer school days for both schools Monday evening.

The schools’ principals proposed the changes to provide more instructional time for students.

The new schedules will be accompanied by several other changes in scheduling and academics.

Starting in September, Willmar Middle School’s student day will begin at 8 a.m. and end at 2:46 p.m., adding 16 minutes to each day and an addition 45 hours of instruction over the entire school year, said Principal Mark Miley.

The school will also make some changes in its elective offerings.

For sixth-graders, electives will be nine-week courses in technology, health, art and writing. Seventh-graders will have an 18-week health course, nine weeks each in art and writing.

Eighth-graders will have an 18-week Gateway to Technology course and an 18-week Spanish course. Gateway to Technology is the first step toward the Senior High’s Project Lead the Way engineering and technology curriculum.

The school will no longer have a formal family and consumer science class, but elements of it will be built into the health classes, Miley said.

Board member Linda Mathiasen said she was concerned that eighth-graders didn’t have a specific writing course. Miley said the staff continues to work on developing a focus on developing writing across all disciplines.

The school has an iron-clad rule requiring students to use proper grammar and punctuation in all assignments. With English Learner students, writing can be a key to their success in understanding math, he said.

The new hours for Willmar Senior High will be from 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. on most days. On Wednesdays a new half-hour class called Ramp Up will be taught and a zero block hour will begin at 7:50 a.m. The Ramp Up course will be taught to all students in the half hour after the last lunch period is over.

Principal Paul Schmitz said the zero block would be used for teacher professional development time and “for kids needing extra help.”

Those with missing assignments or who need help in a class will be able to seek help from tutors in a setting like SMART Club, a current after-school program, he said. Computer labs and other study areas will be open for students who are writing papers or working on group projects. An assessment room would be available to students who need to make up quizzes or tests.

The zero hour would also be used for students who need to serve detention time.

Schmitz said bus schedules would not change for Wednesdays, even though some students might not be required to come to school until the first block class started at 9 a.m.

“We’ll have all sorts of activities and opportunities available,” he said.

Mathiasen said she was concerned about some students losing instruction hours with the new schedule.

Schmitz said the students’ time would be put to good use during that time.

Ramp Up is a course supported by a grant from the University of Minnesota. It will address legislative requirements that students learn about choosing colleges, choosing careers and about personal finance.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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