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A Rosemount Middle School student reads during Irish Time Monday morning. Students in his group used test results to identify reading selections at the best level for them, then read on their own for the half-hour session.

A new time for learning at RMS

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It's late on Monday morning and a group of Rosemount Middle School students is gathered in what appears to be a home economics classroom to listen to their teacher read from George Orwell's Farenheit 451.

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This isn't an English class, though, at least not in the traditional sense. These students won't be tested on what they take in, and they won't get a grade. They're just there to listen to and talk about a classic story.

There are similar lessons taking place around the school. Called Irish Time, the half-hour daily sessions are a chance for teachers to provide extra help for students who are struggling in one subject or another, and to provide additional learning opportunities for students who are not at risk of falling behind.

In addition to the group reading of Farenheit 451, the school has used Irish time to plan and conduct fundraisers or to do community service work.

Depending on their needs, students might move back and forth from sessions designed to shore up their skills to sessions designed as enrichment, though assistant principal Eric Hansen said the way the sessions are designed it's not always obvious which is which.

Getting everybody used to the idea of taking time away from structured studies each day took some work. The school introduced the Irish Time concept by using it as a group reading period in the first week of the year and using it for team-building exercises the second week. In the third week of the school year there were schoolwide games of Bingo during Irish Time.

Irish Time, and its equivalents at other middle schools around Independent School District 196, was added this year as part of a revamped schedule at the middle level. But exactly how it was implemented was left up to individual schools. No two programs look exactly alike, and even at RMS Irish Time continues to be a work in progress. A committee started meeting last January to talk about how to design the program - from when it should be held to how it should be structured.

RMS administrators give teachers within each of the school's houses flexibility within certain guidelines to design their program, and teachers talk regularly about what their students need and how they can best provide it.

"It's about us going from ground zero to building an intervention," said Brad Schaffer, an assistant administrator at RMS. "I'm sure there will be changes for next year (but) I don't know what those are right now."

Holding Irish Time at the same time schoolwide presents some logistical challenges, such as finding a place for all of the groups to meet. Nearly every staff member in the school leads an Irish Time session.

There are no formal test numbers to provide evidence students are benefitting from Irish Time, but so far teachers and administrators seem happy with what they've seen. Schaffer and Hansen said teachers have seen a difference in the classroom.

"I get a sense that kids are doing a lot better," Schaffer said. "To have that extra time to reach the kids that needed the extra time - that's invaluable."

Overtime

The program is already growing, too. Earlier this year a group of math and science teachers approached Hansen with an interest in holding Saturday sessions for students who need extra help. What developed is Irish Overtime, a two-hour Saturday-morning session held once a month.

The sessions, held for the first time earlier this month, are a chance for students to conduct science experiments or get a head start on the math concepts that will be taught over the next few weeks.

The school invited 60 students to participate, and 40 attended the first session.

"For a Saturday from 9 to 11, I thought that was pretty good," Hansen said.

Hansen said the students, who made a commitment to attend all six of the overtimes, enjoyed the first session. Parents said their children felt good about understanding the concepts they were going to see again in class.

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