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Intersession proves positive for Sparks schools
by Garrett E. Valenzuela
Jan 10, 2014 | 1053 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune file photo -- Sparks High School, shown here on the first day of school in August, was largely empty during Winter Break, but it did take advantage of intersession activities to help students recover missed credits and prepare for High School Proficiency Exams.
Tribune file photo -- Sparks High School, shown here on the first day of school in August, was largely empty during Winter Break, but it did take advantage of intersession activities to help students recover missed credits and prepare for High School Proficiency Exams.
Winter Break for high school students and teachers has included traditions ranging from family vacation to winter sports tournaments to simply recharging mental batteries before the new semester begins.

Add to that list credit recovery, proficiency test prep and on-campus tutoring.

The Washoe County School District's new balanced calendar freed up an extra week for Winter Break and installed intersession, which opens schools to students to prepare for High School Proficiency Exams (HSPE), Advanced Placement tests and allows "mastery testing" for students who failed a course.

All three Sparks area schools opened their doors to students, as did more than 30 other WCSD schools. Reed High Principal Mary Vesco said having five teachers on hand for a few hours each day during the break brought between 25 and 50 students into the building seeking help. She said the "mastery testing" allows students who failed a course in the previous semester to study the material vigorously and take a comprehensive test to earn full credit.

"It's important for those students who maybe failed because their homework was not caught up, but they know the material, to have a chance to gain that credit if they can prove they know the material," Vesco said. "They have one-on-one time with the teachers and they have plenty of time at home to study during the break before they come in and take that final exam. That is very important for many of these seniors, who are trying to get all their credits caught up before graduation."

At Spanish Springs High School, Principal Tasha Fuson had three teachers and 33 students coming in and out of the school during the break, working on credit recovery and preparing for the HSPE. Fuson praised the intersession, saying it was very beneficial to seniors who were credit deficient and added that it will eventually bring hundreds of students in during break.

"The turnout has not been as high as we hoped, but this is new for our school and our kids," Fuson said. "I think once we get intersession engrained in the culture of our school, it will not only bring more students in but it will also let the parents know that this is a valuable resource for their kids."

Sparks High School Principal Kevin Carroll said his numbers matched up percentage wise with Reed and Spanish Springs given that Sparks High is a smaller school. Carroll said seven students had already earned credits by early Friday morning for classes they failed and he added that those numbers would only be boosted if intersession continues in the future.

"I really believe that the urgency is not there yet for some of these seniors and especially some of the juniors," Carroll said. "We saw lower numbers in the fall intersession and now those numbers are up in winter. I am estimating that we will have an even better turnout in the spring when many seniors are looking at graduation and realizing they need these credits."

The WCSD Board of Trustees will soon vote on whether the balanced calendar and intersessions will be in place for the 2015-16 school year, a decision that heavily counts on input from students, teachers, school administrators and parents. Carroll said the numbers in all schools may be low in the first year, but over time it may increase the graduation rate.

"I think time is the biggest factor and I think the data will show it is working," Carroll said. "I think on a larger scale it will take a few years but I think we will see more students graduating with this program."

Intersession is still new to both teachers and students, and although time for the program to grow is a major concern for the school district, both Fuson and Vesco said they already see a few ways to improve the current system.

"In the future, I would want a counselor on staff during the final week of intersession in case any students had questions about their current or upcoming schedule or about their track of credits," Vesco said. "There are also some new students who are coming in to register for classes, who would feel more comfortable if they could sit down and speak with one of our counselors. That is really the one thing I would change."

Fuson said her biggest change would consider the timing at which students' grades are posted leading up to the final week of the semester. She said some students were on the cusp in a pass-fail situation and if they were to need credit recovery their families were likely unaware.

"By the time these students see their grades, their parents and families either already have plans for the holidays or are scrambling to make plans around their child's need to attend intersession," Fuson said. "I think we will also be better about reaching out to those students who are on the cusp and ensuring they get all the help they need as the semester comes to an end."

Friday ended the second of three intersessions scheduled throughout the new balanced calendar with the final one coming during Spring Break, April 7 through 11. Bryn LaPenta, senior director of student accounting for WCSD, said that a follow-up survey in the community showed 78 percent of people enjoyed the break and more than 65 percent of parents whose children attended classes or activities felt it was a "positive experience for their child." A similar survey will be handed out to students and parents within a week.
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