There are 50 minutes of waiting for freshman Odi Nano from when he arrives at school 7:20 a.m. to when his first period starts at 8:10 a.m. It’s then when Dr. Jason Ness is seen walking towards him with a toothy smile and a confident stride in the South Lobby. Their initial meeting, although a little awkward, revealed Nano’s understandable worry that the day would be tricky, and Dr. Ness’s determination to get through the day as a friend and as comfortable as possible. As the Thursday progressed, Nano was more attuned to Dr. Ness’s shadowing, and Dr. Ness had a growing appreciation for the strenuous day Nano lives repeatedly for the semester. On Thursdays, Nano is at a nonstop learning extravaganza, with two periods each of English/Reading, Algebra 1, and Biology.
“There’s a lot of information, a lot of ground to cover, a lot of moving and thinking… it’s like hitting a treadmill, like at 10.0. You get on the treadmill and you’re just sprinting from the first bell to the last bell. It’s exhausting, but a ton of fun,” Dr. Ness said as he reflect’s on the day.
Based off of results from the placement test, known as the EXPLORE test, students are placed in classes that correlate with their scores. Students who get another period of extension, to their Math and English classes are placed there with several teachers to offer as much help as possible to the students.
The beginning of the sprint starts with Reading Extension, followed by English. For the first 43 minutes, Dr. Ness sat down with the newly required Reading Plus program. This is the first year that the program has been required by the district, and all the students, including Dr. Ness, are looking at the screen for the period, making a very silent, very focused group of kids. Before this year’s new computer program, previously there was Critical Reading.
“Part of the reason we sit down while we’re reading is not just for our legs but to create the atmosphere of reading for fun. I feel that with Critical Reading we could do that. With Reading Plus we’re kind of just watching to make sure that they’re doing it,” English teacher Jason Schmitt said.
It’s after the extension program where things get familiar. The class pulls out their books and read out loud. Teachers Schmitt and Kim Barker alternate roles, switching off on leading discussions and reading as a character while paraprofessional Elmo Chae controls the projector, showing the annotations of the discussions.
“The biggest thing with Critical Reading was that we would read and share our thoughts. I would always pretend I was reading the passage for the first time and I would just do a Think Out Loud and share my thoughts as a reader, points of confusion, and questions I had; things like that would model reading for them,” Schmitt said. “We still do that with The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night-Time, but with Critical Reading it was a new passage, every week or other week, so we had to do that more frequently. Whereas now this novel will take four or five weeks to read, it’s not quite the same Think Out Loud that we had. So that part has been lost.”
After a phone-addicted lunch period, Dr. Ness and Nano move on to fourth period. The same variables are present in Nano’s math extension and Algebra 1 classes as they are in his Reading and English classes; a computer program and several teachers, plus a Math Monitor volunteer from the Literacy Center, are there for help in Nano’s extension. It’s here where Dr. Ness and Nano get more comfortable with each other, relaxing a bit and joking with one another.
“I’m very impressed. [Nano] stays engaged, focused, and he’s very serious about what he’s doing,” Dr. Ness said.
When we move on to Nano’s double freshman Biology class with Niles North and Niles West teacher Riva Ardam and paraprofessional Gregory Ruber, it’s clear that it’s his favorite. Here Nano shines, asking questions, enjoying the labs, and interactive and being engaged. When Ness and Nano take first place in Ardam’s “Design a Cell” Challenge, they win an AMC gift card and Nano receives five extra credit points.
The pair then moves along to Lauren Flahive‘s Global Studies class, where they watched and took notes on a video about King Henry VII’s Act of Supremacy. Nano then takes us back to math, this time in a regular class setting, with Mathematics teacher Lynne Rauser as the sole teacher, making Dr. Ness go back a decade or two and recall Algebra 1.
But the day was more than just about having a good time. From beginning to the end, the day was about the extension programs, an ongoing topic of discussion between teachers and even some students. The question is, how effective are these extension programs? For some, it’s questioning whether the students should be on the computer instead of a typical class setting for an hour and 24 minutes. Others wonder if they need an extension at all. Students like Nano, who have the “Double Double” (teachers’ term for the math and reading extensions) grow accustomed to the rigorous schedule. Still, the schedule doesn’t allow much freedom, making Nano unable to take a foreign language or an elective class his first semester.
After a determining quiz in Nano’s Algebra 1 class, however, Rauser recommended that he didn’t need the math extension any longer, allowing space for the Chef’s Course class Nano is currently enrolled in.
For the last period of the day, physical education teacher Jason Macejak doesn’t seem amused by Dr. Ness’s student gym uniform as the rest of the class is. After a couple of surprised faces at Dr. Ness’s participation — warming up and doing push-ups with the rest of the boys — they got to relax with an entertaining game of kickball, laughing, screaming, and high-fiving each other.
“It was fun, he was almost like a student, a friend,” Nano said as he summed up his experience with Ness.