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Q&A: Teacher Outlines 'Saturday School' for Students Falling Behind

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This spring, teachers at Hull (Mass.) High School decided to experiment with "Saturday school'' for freshmen and sophomores who were having trouble with their classwork.

Marylou Galluzzo, a French and Spanish teacher who coordinated the program, discussed it with Assistant Editor Ann Bradley.

Q. Please describe Hull--what sort of community is it, and how many students are enrolled in the high school?

A. We have approximately 600 kids [in grades 7-12]. The town used to be mostly blue collar, but we have had a lot of professionals move in, so it's kind of a mixture right now, but more on the blue-collar end. It's 30 miles south of Boston.

Q. Why did you decide to offer Saturday school?

A. Well, the freshman and sophomore teachers--we have team-teaching--had been meeting over several sessions after school working on the curriculum. We're making a lot of changes in our school. In the process of doing that, we went over the ineligible list after the second term and looked at the names of the kids who were on it and decided most of them did not have more than one F.

Anyone at Hull High who gets an F in any subject is ineligible to participate in sports or any extracurricular activity.

[For most students], it was just one course they were failing. We were looking for ways to build more time into the school day, to stay with those kids, and we decided it really couldn't be after school. They are tired, or they have sports. We thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if they came on Saturday? Would they come on Saturday?''

So we asked the superintendent to run an experimental program. We had about 10 kids on the list.

The superintendent said, "Write up the program.'' Before we did, we ran a poll of the freshmen and sophomores, and 100 kids said they would come. We were quite shocked. We called [them] Pirate Prodigies, after the school mascot.

Q. What did students do during the sessions?

A. A lot of the problem was kids just not doing their homework or making up the quizzes and tests they had missed. It was a matter of not getting the work done that they were supposed to be doing. We thought if we provided a place to come together, to work with us and to work with their friends, that they would get the work done.

They brought work they hadn't finished. They met with other teachers during the week and asked them to give materials to another teacher who was going to be there. They came for the chance to work one-on-one with a teacher on material they didn't understand, and they came to do homework with their peers.

We structured it so that we had an hour and a half of academics, half an hour of physical activity--we did aerobics, played volleyball, and went out on the ropes course at the school, and took them jogging to break it up. They couldn't sit still for three hours. Then we had a portion on self-esteem, which was a good program, but just didn't go over well with large groups. We decided not to do it next year.

Q. What reasons did students give for attending, and how did they react to the programs that were offered?

A. Most said they came to bring their grades up. Their reaction to it was interesting. The attendance in cold weather was 48 to 65 kids a week. There were three weeks for freshmen and three weeks for sophomores. We ran the last two sessions in May and [June], in warm weather. The attendance was low; it was 12 and 18. We went back and polled the kids, and said, "Tell us why you didn't come.''

What we found was there's just too much going on in town on Saturday mornings. Many had started summer jobs. A lot of our kids were doing community service, and were involved in things like town cleanups. I'm sure, too, a lot was the warm weather. But that's O.K., we needed to find that out.

All the kids who attended said they really liked it. Especially, they liked the free atmosphere we set up. It was held in the cafeteria. We had stations with signs saying "foreign language,'' and "English,'' and invited kids to go where they needed to go. They could take a walk around. We also provided a small breakfast for them, we had music, and they could work on whatever they wanted at their own pace. They really liked that.

They also liked the fact that the teacher-pupil ratio was like 1 to 10. They liked the fact they they could sit somewhere with their friends in a warm room in the winter with some food and get their work done. We were very, very pleased with the quality of the work the kids did. We had absolutely no discipline problems, and some of the worst discipline problems at the school came.

Q. What effect did the program have?

A. One of the ways we assessed it was to check the ineligible list for the next term. ... We found that the freshman ineligible list for the third term dropped by 11 kids, and those 11 came to at least two sessions. The sophomores dropped by nine, and all but one had come to two sessions of Saturday school.

Q. What did parents think of the sessions?

A. Parents were overwhelmingly in favor of it. Some wished we would focus more on [Scholastic Aptitude Test] skills, and that's something we're considering for next year.

Recently, our superintendent signed a partnership with Suffolk University. We're thinking along the lines of having Suffolk come in and do some courses.

Q. Are there plans to have Saturday school in the fall?

A. Yes. We have found it doesn't work as well at the beginning of the semester as it does at the end. So we have recommended a modified version of two weeks at the end of the term, open to the entire school, and some special time before mid-year exams and before finals.

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