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New Vista program to help students succeed

By: Milan Cabebe
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A pilot program at Vista del Lago High School seeks to ensure that struggling students get extra help – whether they like it or not.

The local high school piloted an intervention program called FlexiSCHED in August for the new school year to help struggling students become better learners.

FlexiSCHED is integrated into each student’s schedule for 37 minutes a day, three days a week. Each “FlexTime” session is a chance for students to get extra help from their teachers, join quiet study halls, or be part of engaging, teacher-led activities.

“Our intervention program is designed so that every student has the opportunity to get intervention during the school day,” said Principal Lori Emmington.

When intervention is offered before or after school, students often don't show up, she said. Vista del Lago has designed the program, similar to one initially used in Wisconsin, so that every student who needs intervention is going to get that opportunity and support.

“One thing that we had to make sure of is that this was a no opt-out intervention. If a student is behind or failing, they don’t get to choose not to participate in intervention. It’s geared for success at every level,” Emmington said.

At the start of each week, students pull up the FlexiSCHED website to manually select the classrooms they go to for FlexTime. They also have the option of signing up from home and through their phones.

Teachers have the option to sign up students to their FlexTime sessions if they feel a student needs the extra help and attention. Other times, it could be for extra rehearsal for a performing arts program, said Assistant Principal Kimberly Moore.

While teachers have this ability, most students are still in charge of where they choose to go for the week. Vista del Lago offers many different classes during FlexTime, including intervention for the regular A through G classes students need to pass in order to graduate; club meetings; college/ career preparation; study hall; guest speakers; AP study sessions; History Day preparation; dance and yoga.

Every class is filled on a first-come-, first-served-basis, so students must sign up quickly. Students who don’t sign up at all are automatically placed in an open class through the software.

Each teacher offers something unique, and students can choose to go to whichever offerings suit them best. Some even learn about topics not normally taught until now through the FlexiSCHED program.

Sophomore Rachel Larson always comes back to one particular FlexTime class that she enjoys.

“There’s a creative writing one that I like to go to so that’s cool. [The teacher] will post a writing prompt up on the projector and you’re supposed to type about the prompt,” she said.

Larson enjoys writing, but with a full school schedule, she has a hard time separating school work from her free writing. This creative writing class gives her an option to do both, she said.

At the end of this pilot-year, the staff will use student and parent feedback to decide whether or not to continue this program. If she were able to vote, Larson said she would vote yes and that she wants FlexTime to continue into the next year.

Others have mixed feelings.

Before FlexTime was introduced to the school, there was a lot of hesitation. Moore said students don’t like change and have grown accustomed to their old schedules.

Junior Priyanka Venkatesh said she doesn’t get much benefit from the program.

“I don’t really need the study hall, and it doesn’t really help me too much because it’s only 30 minutes long. You can’t really accomplish too much in 30 minutes,” she said.

Venkatesh added that FlexTime is a great way to catch up on work and meet up with teacher when making up absences.

In a fall survey, 80 percent of students said FlexiSCHED was helpful, and 70 percent said they liked it.

Vista del Lago officials say Flextime has improved student grades. The number of students with letter grades of Ds and Fs has gone down about 3 percent.