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Homework away from home

In an attempt to boost grades and improve homework turn-in rates, teachers and administrators at Hanby Middle School in Gold Hill have tacked the normally after-school staple right onto the end of the school day.

Principal Dennis Allen, who took the reigns at Hanby this year after seven years as principal at Jewett Elementary, said one of the first things he noticed when coming to the school of just 260 students was teachers giving up their lunch break to help kids getting behind on schoolwork.

A video viewed by staff last year touting homework workshops, sparked an idea.

"Usually schools that have a program such as this will do it after school, but attendance is not required and not all the kids can attend due to bus schedules and after-school activities like athletics and 4-H," said Allen. "We thought if we fit it into the school day, we could help the students who needed it most. "¦ So what we did was took three or four minutes from each class period and we wound up with a half-hour."

Started in January, the workshop has been a hit, Allen said, especially for kids with busy after-school schedules.

In just three months, Allen said grades are up, homework turn-in rates are drastically improved and teachers are able to keep better tabs on student learning.

Teacher Claire Van Der Zwan, one of those offering extra teaching time during the lunch hour, said she'd already noticed a boost in grades since the program began.

"I think it made a big difference. Before, kids wouldn't always show up during lunch so they didn't always get the help they needed," she said.

"This way we just have more time to help kids and make sure they understand the work. They all have a lot going on so this works out well."

With baseball practice twice a week and things he'd rather do after school than think about class work, sixth-grader Kyle Joseph said the homework workshop had helped him stay on top of his studies.

"It's a chance to get your work done if you hadn't got it done in class. And you can get help from teachers while you're still at school," he said. "Stuff you do at home and after school makes it hard to do homework."

An added bonus, said sixth-grader Derek Staton, is that teachers are on hand to answer questions on tough subjects parents may struggle with, such as math.

"We usually head for the skate park after school," he said. "I hate doing homework after being at school all day. This way we get help, too, so now I don't have to ask my sister to show me how to do it. Because my parents did this stuff a lot of years ago "¦ and they forgot some of it already."

A bonus for teachers, Allen said, is that they can now focus on actual instruction time instead of planning class time for kids to begin homework and ask questions.

As a reward for having all homework turned in, the school offers each of the three grade levels a day each week for a special, fun activity, such as computer or gym time.

"The other hope is this will show us, when we find students almost all the time in homework workshop and not getting the special activity day, that we'll separate the students who won't from the students who can't," Allen said.

"This way we can give extra help to those students who need it. "¦ It's just a way for us to ensure these kids are successful when they leave us and go on to high school."

Buffy Pollock is a writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.

Sixth grader Kyle Joseph ponders a math textbook in his homework workshop class at Hanby Middle School in Gold Hill. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune / Jim Craven