For the last 30 minutes of most days of the week at Somers Middle School, students are given a choice of what they like to do that day.
As part of the school’s new P.A.C.E program, which started this fall, students are able to pick how they would like to spend this portion of their day as an incentive for being in good academic standing, Principal Lori Schieffer said.
For the past few years, the school has been keeping tabs on students’ performances — how many are in good standing — to look for trends.
“We found that kids getting bad grades didn’t have skill deficiencies necessarily,” she said.
With that discovery, staff members knew they needed to target a lack of motivation instead.
“We knew they were capable but why weren’t they performing well?” Schieffer said.
That’s when school officials came up with the P.A.C.E. program, standing for Practice, Activity, Choice and Enrichment.
To facilitate it, students have about 30 minutes at the end of the day four days a week set aside for P.A.C.E. which provides both rewards to students and immediate support for those who need it.
Students who need extra support or tutoring are asked that day by teachers to attend practice or can opt to attend by their own choice.
“The biggest part of it is getting the students support that day — immediately,” Schieffer said.
Students whose grades are up and don’t want extra help or need make up time can choose from a wide range of enrichment activities.
This serves as an incentive for students and gives them one part of their day that they have choice over, Schieffer said, which is what has made it easy to get students to buy in to the program.
“Developmentally, they can own a little part of their day and choose the activity that interests them to explore,” she said. “They are different things students may like to explore but don’t have time for in the normal day.”
The P.A.C.E. enrichment activities can include knitting, games and physical activities like strength training and flexibility work.
There’s a quiet room where no noise is allowed for students who just want to catch up on homework or read.
“The kids have been really happy about it,” she said. “It’s definitely a work in progress. It’s not perfect yet, but so far, it’s meeting the motivational need.”
Schieffer has already seen a difference in the numbers.
Since the program was instituted this year, there’s been a fairly steady drop in the number of students each week who are not in good academic standing, reducing the average over a 10-week period to 22.8 students, down nearly 10 students from last year’s average of 31.4 students.
The high week this fall — the week P.A.C.E. started — had 31 students not in good standing. The latest week with data only had 15.
“What we’ve seen so far is a nice reduction,” Schieffer said.
School officials are hoping to get community support for the program in the form of volunteers who can come in and offer further enrichment activities.
“We’re always trying to get the community involved,” she said.
Residents of a variety of career fields and interests are welcome. Through surveying and feedback, students have expressed an interest in computer programming, and the school is looking for someone who can help fulfill that interest.
Those who want to volunteer can call the school at 857-3661 or e-mail Schieffer at firstname.lastname@example.org.