The end of the first quarter, not the semester, was two weeks away. The most recent grade reports of students reluctant to do homework revealed many with grades below 50%. I did the math in my head. These students would need 80% or higher during second quarter in order to pass the semester. For some it was mathematically impossible to pass.
A sudden urgency emerged. We needed to do something now or the idea of a successful transition to 10th grade was over, and it was only the sixth week of school.
Kidnapping sounds a bit strong, but that’s what we did that first year. We developed a list of 25 freshmen who were failing classes. Then on a Friday morning we kidnapped them. We plucked them from their first period class and brought them to the auditorium stage.
The stage was set with tables all around the perimeter with chairs on the inside so that all eyes were pointing outward. Some looked at the wall while others looked into an empty auditorium.
I had notified all the teachers ahead of time. Teachers who wanted their students in their class period received their wish. Otherwise, it was a day of working. The Freshman Academy teachers compiled work that was waiting on the table for the students when they arrived. A sheet with the student’s name in a large font was hanging on the back of each chair. Students entered the stage, found their chairs, and sat down.
The opening conversation was tense. Unhappiness was communicated. But this was a gift. They were being given the gift of time to complete work and make-up tests. Selling it in those first few moments was critical.
We hired a substitute teacher to join me in running what we called Git R’ Done. It was a time to do just that: Get the homework done, find the missing worksheets, polish the unfinished projects, and take the missing tests. The goal was not so much to pass every class but move every class to what we called a “healthy F,” meaning that it was above 55% so that second quarter didn’t have be higher than 75%.
We learned that first year that students who were failing everything emerged from Git R’Donefailing everything, but students that were passing at least two classes did very well. That became one of the criteria for selecting students: They must be passing at least two of their six classes in order to be selected for this intervention.
We now do this intervention differently. We invite students rather than kidnap them. Two or three days before Git R’ Done, teams select seven students that fit the criteria. (With four teams that’s 28 students total.) The students sign a contract and come the day of Git R’ Done knowing that they will be working independently on school work all day.
Students work hard on this day. It is quiet. There are no earbuds, no listening to music. Students put completed work in a stack on a table in the center of the stage. Students then press a Staples “That Was Easy” button. It’s cheesey and they know it, but most press it with a smirk and walk away with a smile.
Some students finish early and return to class. Others plow through the entire day with amazing focus and tenacity. At the debrief at the end of the day I usually open with “You have been sitting in this room for over six and a-half hours with no music and very few breaks. If you want, you can do this at home.” Those that finish rank the event as beneficial and are proud of the work they have done.
The work they produce is as varied as each student. On average 15 to 20 of the 28 make decisive gains, putting credit for the semester within reach.
We have learned that students who are struggling in school sometimes need the adults in their life to structure a time for them to Git R’ Done.