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WARRENSBURG – Wednesdays at Warrensburg-Latham schools are special.

The schedule for the day is compressed into shorter periods to allow for “Cardinal Time,” an hour of either enrichment or intervention classes named for the school mascot, with an early dismissal at 2 p.m. to allow teachers time for department meetings, collaboration or professional development.

The school kicked off the year with team-building outdoor activities, a chance for teachers and students to let their hair down and have fun together.

“I first heard about it four or five years ago at a superintendent conference,” said Superintendent Kristen Kendrick-Weikle. “Where I came from previously, they did something similar, but it was in the morning, with a late start (for classes). We've been talking about needing more time for staff to get together for professional development, to look at data, to make plans for kids, and with the additional school days required this year, it seemed like a good time to ease into this.”

The State of Illinois now requires 176 student attendance days, Kendrick-Weikle said, which cuts down on the available time to devote whole or half days to professional development, and the Cardinal Time is a good solution.

Kendrick-Weikle sent a letter home to families to explain Cardinal Time and answer frequently asked questions, such as "Why can't the school find time during the school day for teachers to do this work?" The answer to that, she said, is that in order to provide the students with the classes and schedules they need at the middle and high school levels, there was no way to free all the department teachers at the same time of day, for example, and if they held their collaborative sessions before school, they wouldn't be available for students and parents who might need them. 

Elementary, middle and high school all participate, though only middle and high school offer the intervention and enrichment classes.

This is the second year of Cardinal Time, said high school Principal Jonathan Downing, and it was developed originally to provide intervention time for students who were struggling.

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“Last year, if a kid had all their assignments completed, they left early, and that was obviously a huge incentive for kids to get their work done,” Downing said. “Like anything new, you look at it and kind of tweak it, and the downfall was, even though some students got their work done, there were (still) students that were failing and not doing well.”

Because Cardinal Time is meant for support and help, the teachers and Downing came up with a new system. Rather than allow kids whose grades are good and whose work is done leave during the intervention time, the school will offer enrichment classes like “Adulting 101” or “The History of Rock and Roll,” while other teachers will be in a different classroom to assist the students who are struggling. Once a student catches up and his or her grades are back on track, that student can move to an enrichment class, and those enrichment classes are in themselves an incentive for students to work hard, Downing said.

“I get to explore,” said Emma Baker, a sophomore. “A lot of times, in school hours, I don't have time to do all the things I'd like to do. I can bond with my volleyball team a lot more and do more classes.”

Adam Maxwell is looking forward to social science teacher Zachary Campbell's rock and roll history class.

“I just think that would be fun to learn about,” said Adam, a senior.

English teachers Kyli Burge and Alyssa Jackson helped plan the Cardinal Time classes.

“We want to build a culture for the students and also have a well-planned enrichment time,” Burge said.

The hope is that students will bond with each other and with the staff, which will cut down on bullying and create a community, Downing said.

“I want the kids to see school as something more than just English and science, and actually enjoy what they're doing,” Jackson added.

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter

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