RANCHESTER — While the halls of Tongue River Middle School tend to be vacant on Fridays, once per month, you can still find many students and teachers hard at work.
The Friday school program takes place once per month at Tongue River middle and high schools. The informal setting, typically consisting of students scattered between several classrooms and the school’s library, allows students to get caught up on homework, projects and other school-related work.
“We just saw a need,” Tongue River Middle School Principal Pete Kilbride said. “With a four-day school week, if you miss a day, you miss 25 percent of your week. We always say that learning is the constant, and time is the variable … if it takes them longer to understand the content, we have to provide that.”
Teachers volunteer to help during Friday school days, which takes place informally from 7:45 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Students can stop by the school at any time and leave once their work has been completed.
While not mandatory for students, teachers and administrators strongly encourage the program for those behind on work or for those needing an academic boost.
Typically, a half dozen students show up for the program. That number tends to increase closer to the end of the semester. Big Horn Middle School’s principal Richard Welch said his school tends to offer a Friday school program near the end of the semester, as well.
The district provides abbreviated transportation services during those days, when buses stop at one location in Parkman and Dayton to pick up students. The program requires at least two teachers at the school to sign up to help.
The one-on-one attention can be invaluable, TRMS science teacher Tim Maze said. Maze goes to nearly every Friday school to help students.
“Some kids work better in a one-on-one environment,” Maze said. “The relationship with a student is totally different (on Fridays) than it is during the week when students have to raise their hand and have all the formalities. Especially at the middle-school level, relationships between teachers and students make a huge difference.”
Students receive a half hour at the end of every school day to get caught up on work, but that’s often not enough for those who missed class.
“If they miss a lot of class during the week, and we just throw them into the next unit, we are doing a disservice to those kids,” Kilbride said. “It’s hard for them to catch up.”
But not all who show up for Friday school struggle academically or are behind on classes. Some students show up on these days to get ahead or simply utilize the school’s facilities for their own entertainment.
It’s also a benefit for teachers. TRMS technology teacher Peter Fenster uses the days to get caught up on lesson planning and fix the school’s equipment.
“I usually come every Friday to fix (technology) problems,” Fenster said. “That way, teachers can focus more on the curriculum during the week.”
Friday school is only possible because of the district’s four-day school weeks, which have long been a staple of Sheridan County School District 1’s academics.
The past several years, the school district has opted for the shortened week, which staff members say benefits both the students and teachers. With Fridays off, staff say students have more consistency in their school schedule.
Teachers also cite that for small schools, the majority of students participate in sports, which can be problematic as you get to the end of the week.
“If you look at the high school in the fall, you have cross-country, football and volleyball kids leaving on Fridays to go to their games,” said Maze, who is also Tongue River High School’s cross-country coach. “That doesn’t leave a lot of kids left at school on those days.”
On other Fridays, it’s required of teachers to meet at the school for collaboration, a concept Maze and Fenster like. After a long day of teaching, Maze said the last thing most teachers want to do is to sit through a lengthy meeting and teachers tend to be more efficient and effective with their collaboration on Fridays.
In order to have a district move to an alternative schedule like the four-day week, the district must send out surveys for parents to weigh in, and responses tend to be in favor of the concept. Superintendent Marty Kobza said at the district’s January school board meeting that 96 percent of respondents said they supported a four-day school week.
Approval of an alternative school week will be voted on by the SCSD1 school board at Tuesday night’s meeting.