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Year-Round Discontent at Hollywood High

Education: Staff, students say learning suffers. But schedule spreads in district.

November 20, 2000|DUKE HELFAND | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

"I constantly recharge the battery," said English teacher Janie Chapman. "Academically," she added, "it's not ideal."

The complexities and tight schedules of a year-round calendar lead to other problems.

Teachers must change classrooms every time they come back from vacation. Some must change classrooms in the course of a single school day because of the lack of space, storing their supplies in the trunks of their cars.

Maintenance is difficult to schedule when school is nearly always in session. Grass can't grow on much of the football field because it's constantly in use, turning it into a hard patch of dirt in summer and a wet slog in winter.

Getting books into students' hands also becomes more difficult. The school took several days to collect and tally textbooks from students who went on break Oct. 24. The next track started class Oct. 25, giving officials little time to redistribute the materials.

On the first day back, Chapman's 11th-graders were waiting for their class novel: John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men." Chapman let the students chat quietly as she took roll. Then, without anything for them to read, she offered to talk about her recent trip to Egypt.

"You guys, we don't have our books. We won't get them until Friday," Chapman told the class on a Wednesday. "So sit back and relax. Since we don't have books, I'm going to show you my slides."

Many of Hollywood's students have only known year-round schedules because they came from crowded elementary and middle schools.

Several students said they're happy at Hollywood. Some are grateful for the opportunities to make up classes during vacations. Others like the school's menu of specialized programs.

"I came to Hollywood because of the acting," said Andrew Farkas-Jones, who travels from the Westside to attend the school's Performing Arts Magnet.

"People say that Hollywood High is not a good school for academics, but we don't miss out on learning," said the senior, who dreams of becoming a professional actor but also speaks of attending a community college or UCLA. "Teachers do a really good job. I can't really complain."

Still, teachers and administrators worry that the schedule fragments the school, creating three campuses in one. The tracks act like fault lines, fracturing students by abilities and talents.

The A track includes the arts magnet and closely resembles the traditional September to June calendar. B track is home to students who are still learning English. C track encompasses the New Media Academy, a program that teaches high-tech skills such as how to produce computerized videos.

Administrators freely acknowledge that the schedule creates inequities within the school. They say B track is the biggest loser, even questioning whether it is "academically sound."

The track offers fewer honors and Advanced Placement courses than the other two, a gap the school is trying to close. B track students also have had to take the Stanford 9 exam just three days after returning from eight weeks of vacation. Beginning next spring, these students will take the Stanford 9 about 3 1/2 weeks after returning from vacation, the result of new state rules that push back the testing dates.

Teachers welcome the additional time, but they say the students still won't be as prepared as others at the school.

"How can you expect these kids to be on the same par as kids who have been in school all semester?" asked Trimble, the principal. "It's criminal."

B track suffers one additional detriment: more disruptions during the year. While the two tracks are in session for 16 weeks and then are off for eight, B track goes on vacation after only eight weeks of school, in the middle of its term. Students with a limited command of English say the stop-and-start schedule interferes with their progress.

"It would be much better if we didn't have this system," said junior Jaman Ymeri, a Kosovar Albanian who has been in the United States about a year.

Television is Ymeri's teacher during his vacations. He practices English by watching videotapes of his favorite films, the Indiana Jones movies and "Braveheart."

He also reads the closed-caption words that run across the screen of his television. It's about the most English he gets at home, where his family primarily speaks Albanian.

"If I were in school," he said, "I would probably learn more and do better."

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