New BHS program, Power Hour, enacted to help struggling students

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When students step onto the Belen High School campus in a few weeks, most things will look the same. But Principal Rodney Wright is starting a new program he hopes will improve the climate at the school and increase student success.

During spring break, Wright and his top two administrators made a trip to Ocala, Fla., to observe a successful program at West Port High School called "Power Hour."

What they found there is a school very similar to Belen that has made huge strides in not only student achievement but student participation in activities and enthusiasm for learning.

"It's a rural school; their students come from very diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds," Wright said.

The concept of Power Hour is very simple — for an hour a day, during lunch, teachers hold office hours for 30 minutes. During that time, students who need intervention and tutoring can meet with their teachers.

"In talking to the principal at West Port, they were averaging 300 referrals a day. That has dropped to a handful," he said. "She attributes it to this program, which is all about the empowerment of students and teachers.

"The campus has never been cleaner or safer, and the climate had never been better."

To implement the program, the two 30-minute lunch periods at the high school will be combined into one hour. Students and teachers alike would have 30 minutes to meet and 30 minutes to eat.

"We have been talking about how do get more intervention time. Time for student and staff interaction for better success rates," Wright said. "A lot (of students) ride the bus and can't stay after school for intervention. This allows it to happen during the instruction day."

Last fall semester at BHS, about 160 students failed English and Algebra I, Wright said. He continued, saying freshmen making the difficult transition from middle school to high school are at the highest risk for failure.

The two-day visit to the West Port campus provided Wright and his staff with some on-the-ground observation of the program in action, and gave them the chance to talk to the Florida high school's staff about logistics.

"We had some concerns about how to facilitate with food services and security, since we will have the kids out all at the same time," he said. "It was amazing; everywhere you went something was going on. There were tutoring groups, clubs and organizations meetings. I talked to one girl and asked her hypothetically why I should enroll my son at West Port. She just looked at me and said, 'Why wouldn't you?' Then she just started reeling off all the great things about the school and this program. There is tremendous student and teacher buy in."

Wright also noted that Florida schools are under the same A to F rating system as New Mexico.

"Two years in a row, West Port has gotten an A," he said.

Wright said the Power Hour format would not change the start or end times of the school day at BHS.

"It would require about four to five minutes from each class to add to that time," the principal said. "This would not be taking away the teachers' prep or lunch time. We would be grabbing a few minutes of each class period. If we were to go to an advisory type class, we would still have to find the time somewhere."

Wright said the West Port school also saw increased participation in extracurricular activities and clubs due to the Power Hour.

"Previously, they had very little because kids had to leave at the end of the day and catch the bus," he said. "They have chess club, glee, all those things and participation in athletics has increased."

Wright said the leadership team at BHS took the concept of Power Hour to all the departments and got back very positive results.

"They have even had discussions already with teachers who have come to us about how we could create a mentoring program to truly use our junior and senior level students to mentor incoming freshman," he said. "Now we have to translate that improved climate and enthusiasm into better test scores. There's no cost other than getting after it and getting involved."


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.