On Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, the school day at North Junior High looks and feels a lot like it does after school. Students engage in enrichment activities, participate in school clubs, and seek academic support from their teachers. It's all part of a new program that started at North this February called WIN, which stands for What I Need. It creates equitable experiences for students, deepens school community, and allows teachers and students to build stronger bonds.
Debbie Hahn, a social studies teacher at North, along with 11 other teachers, came up with the concept of WIN this past summer when they were trying to find time in the day for ninth-grade students to work on a required International Baccalaureate (IB) service-learning project. By cutting just four minutes off each block, they created 30 minutes of time two days a week for ninth-grade students. They soon realized that if they opened up this time to the entire school, all students could benefit. It was a complex endeavor that involved reconfiguring advisory time, but from the beginning everyone was all in, including North leadership.
"It's my job as a leader to help break down barriers, access resources, and clear a path for innovation to be put into action," said Becky Melville, North Junior High principal. "When there is passion for something that is grounded in research and possibilities all in one, how would it be possible not to support it?"
Equitable solutions for students
WIN serves all students, but is especially beneficial for those who are not able to participate in after-school enrichment, clubs, or homework help opportunities. Assuming students are current on their homework, they can choose to spend their WIN time in a variety of ways. There are dozens of enrichment choices including chess, knitting, coding, gamer club, and more. Many of the after-school clubs run sessions during WIN, giving all students a chance to be involved in Royal Records, North Speaks Out, or the North Gay Straight Alliance. This also means students can be involved in more than one club.
"This is a big change, but we knew it would be great for kids and for our school community," said Hahn. "By deconstructing the traditional advisory time, we are building deeper experiences for students."
Academic support for all students
When building WIN, North teachers wanted to come up with solutions that gave students access to academic support during the school day. Students are busy, and if they are not able to stay after school or come to school early, their options for accessing academic support are limited, and they can fall behind.
"We wanted to create an equitable solution where students could access enrichment activities, tutoring, or homework help without having to stay after school, which is not always an option for them," said Angela Wilcox, a language arts teacher at North.
With WIN, teachers are able to identify students who need extra support and schedule them into an academic session to catch up on their homework or improve their grade.
Students who were absent or who found a lesson confusing can have it re-taught or re-explained by the teacher. The support is offered in a much smaller setting, giving the teacher the opportunity to work one-on-one with a student. Although the program is new, teachers are already reporting that they have been able to move students up an entire letter grade based on the work they were able to complete during WIN time.
"During B days, I work with a small group of students that need extra support in my global studies class," said Allegra Smisek, a social studies teacher at North. "It is so valuable to connect with students who need a re-teaching of a concept that was confusing to them."
Building school community
Social time is important for junior high students. One of the benefits of WIN is that it allows seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-grade students the opportunity to interact with each other in meaningful ways because WIN activities are open to the entire school.
"We're starting to see more seventh- and ninth-grade students talk to each other," said Hahn. "It's challenging to build authentic relationships between these age groups."
Dana Sagedahl, a media para, is noticing that in her knitting session, students who know how to knit are assisting those who don't. These interactions give students easy inroads with each other and help strengthen school community overall.
A similar trend is revealing itself in Smisek's North Speaks Out Club, a civic engagement group where students can speak out about issues they care about. Before WIN, the group was scheduled in the same way all clubs were — after school. But not all students were able to participate due to being involved in sports or other extra-curricular activities or having responsibilities at home. Now, once a week, she is able to hold club meetings during the school day, opening it up to more students. One of her first observations was that WIN brought together school leaders in each grade level.
"WIN is a great opportunity to create community and for students to broaden their social circles," she said. "At our first North Speaks Out meeting, four student leaders attended, but they had never really hung out together previously. I am seeing students engage and make positive change in our school community — it's incredible."