Last year, the principal of Pine Tree Middle School in Longview, Texas, noticed that more than half of his students were arriving at school nearly an hour before the first bell. These students were taken to the gym or the band hall where they had to sit in lines and keep their voices low for about 45 minutes.
“It’s kind of tough for them to be quiet,” said Principal Rusty Robinett. “I kept walking around going we’ve got to do something better with this time.”
He visited another school where students got to explore different hobbies every Friday and thought something like this might work at his school on a daily basis. Then he started pitching the idea to his teachers, who often had to supervise students before the first bell.
“I actually started the conversation with, ‘What’s your favorite thing to do? What’s your hobby?’ So I said, ‘What if instead of being in the gym, you were in your room with a group of 15-20 kids and you’re just sharing your hobby with them?’”
And this is how Go Time was born at Pine Tree Middle School. Robinett and 5th grade teacher Sharon Smith put the program together.
So this year instead of just sitting around bored, students spend the time before classes start getting engaged. They have several different options, which include working in a maker space, twirling, learning about robotics or web design, sewing, playing soccer, coding, running cross country or helping teachers prepare for the day. That last option came about as a way to help teachers who would normally spend this time running off copies or doing other clerical work before school begins.
Every six weeks, the students change their Go Time courses. Based on a list of courses offered by their teachers, students select their top choices, and Smith works to place them. She also helps teachers get any resources they need to teach the classes.
The program began the second week of the school year, and so far, Robinett calls it a big success.
Of his 730 5th and 6th graders, nearly 90 percent participate in Go Time.
“Now students and teachers are having fun together,” said Robinett. “They’re doing hobbies, and the kids have been engaged in some kind of an activity that’s already got their mind going. In first period class at 8:30, the kids are ready to learn. They’re not coming in sleepy-eyed. They’ve already been thinking, doing different projects for as much as 30 minutes before that class starts.”
Since the school implemented the program, Robinett said attendance has gone up and tardies are down. Go Time begins at 7:45 and runs through 8:20.
“There is a tremendous excitement around the campus,” said Robinett. “The biggest benefit is the kids are excited to come to school. Now you can’t get into my parking lot after about 7:30 because the parents are lined up waiting to drop their kids off at 7:45 because the kids want to be in school.”
Smith said the teachers are excited about it as well.
“Teachers are enjoying it because they get to build closer relationships with the students, and they get to teach something they love,” said Smith. “A lot of times, there’s a lot of pressure on teachers because of the way testing is set up on their regular subjects. Letting them share a passion that the kids are absorbing like little sponges, that makes teacher hearts happy.”
Photo: Students work on a robotics project during Go Time at Pine Tree Middle School in Longview, Texas. (Rusty Robinett)
A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.