As the hands of the Edison High School cafeteria clock approached 7 a.m. on a recent Saturday, Allyn Van Ry signed in with security guard Geri Takkinene. The 17-year-old senior then hurriedly found a chair at one of the rows of tables being filled by about 40 fellow students at the Huntington Beach school.
When the clock struck 7, teacher Hal Stevens stepped to the podium at the front of the dimly lit room and tapped lightly on the microphone. The students' banter, giggling and seat shifting suddenly stopped.
Under the watchful eyes of security guards Takkinene, Inez Gadient and teacher Stevens, Van Ry and the other students pulled out textbooks, notebooks, pencils and pens and sighed audibly as their three-hour study hall got under way.
Each Saturday this scene is repeated at high schools throughout Orange County. From a mere handful of Saturday detention halls just a decade ago, these programs have spread in the last five years to most of the county's 54 public high schools, according to interviews with administrators from the majority of the county's 15 high school districts.
In most of the Saturday morning detention halls, students study silently for three to four hours. In a few, students spend their Saturday mornings picking up trash, painting walls, pulling weeds and doing other maintenance work on schoolgrounds, administrators say.
Most high school administrators agree that the Orange County detention programs bear little resemblance to the Saturday study hall that was the subject of the youth movie "The Breakfast Club."
Said Edison's Stevens: "In the movie the only thing the dean who ran that study hall did was to shove the kids into a room and close the door behind him. He just let the kids spend their time unsupervised, and without any educational program, until their hours were up."
"It wasn't a bad movie because it tried to tell about personal problems faced by kids today," continued Stevens, 60, a former English teacher who retired from Edison two years ago and then set up the Saturday Study Program. "But it was just a movie; it wasn't about real life.
'Kids Constantly Supervised'
"In our study hall, kids are constantly supervised. They're required to make up the school work they missed during the week.
"The kids also have to participate in discussions led by myself or guest speakers on how they can do better schoolwork and what methods to use to get along with their parents.
"I pass out surveys at the beginning of each semester. From their responses, it's clear kids want to learn a lot more about how to handle peer pressures to drink, use drugs, smoke cigarettes or engage in sexual activities."
Van Ry is an alumnus of the campus cleanup program that Edison operated on Saturdays until last fall, when it was discontinued because school officials felt that students would benefit more from studying and lectures.
"What Mr. Stevens does is better," Van Ry said. "He brings in speakers to help you with your problems, like the guy who came in today to talk about how you get cancer from smoking."
Of course, one of the main purposes of Saturday detention is to punish errant students--mostly for being truant or habitually tardy or for other relatively minor school infractions.
Missed School Monday
"This ruined my Saturday," complained Jennifer Harris, 15, an Edison junior who'd been assigned to the Saturday Study Program because she'd ditched school the previous Monday. "And I couldn't go out last night because I had to be here so early this morning."
Indeed, most administrators no longer believe that the traditional suspension for truancy--technically "defiance of authority"--is an effective punishment for an unexcused absence from school.
"Today, there are fewer adults at home during the day to supervise kids on suspension," said Gerald Rayle, who, as director of secondary education for the Irvine Unified School District, oversees disciplinary policies for the district's three high schools.
"All a suspension does is turn the kid out on the street or allow him to sit around the house and watch TV with his buddies," Rayle said. "Kids treat a suspension like it was a vacation."
Decrease in Suspensions
School administrators say suspensions have decreased considerably due to Saturday detention programs. In the Saturday Work Program at Estancia High School in Costa Mesa, students spend four hours picking up trash and doing other campus maintenance tasks. Before the program started four years ago, Assistant Principal Bill Wetzel said that about 100 students were suspended annually.
This number has been cut in half. "The days of letting a kid turn a three-day suspension into a three-day vacation are over," Wetzel said.
Edison senior Van Ry acknowledged that the Saturday Study Program had discouraged him from ditching school, which he said he finds "boring." Last year he was truant eight times and had to attend an equal number of detention sessions.