ONALASKA, Wis. -- "Our mission at this school is to ensure learning for all," said Jed Kees, Onalaska Middle School principal. "Now, that's easy to say. But when you really think about every single student here learning, the only way we can ensure that is making sure that they demonstrate that they know something that we want them to know while they're here at school."
To accomplish this, a concept called "learning between the bells" was born. Almost all class periods at Onalaska Middle were shortened last year to create a new 25 minute class called Topper Time.
"We put it in the Topper Time so that we could get another shot at the kids, and help them try and understand some of the concepts we're trying to teach them with a little bit longer chunk of time," said Kees. "Where ever their greatest need is, based on assessments and test, that's where we put them for those interventions to get that additional time."
Eighth grade Language Arts Teacher Missy Rude is currently teaching a reading intervention class during Topper Time.
"The students are pulled based on the need that they have the most at that time, and then they're getting that extra support in what they're doing already," said Rude. "So, they're less resistant to being in there because it's not like, 'there's this extra thing I have to do.' It's 'I'm going to get help on this work that confuses me.'"
The intervention classes are smaller than a traditional classroom which allows teachers to give students one-on-one instruction.
"With that additional time, we feel like we're getting at the kids needs a little bit better; those kids that aren't demonstrating that they know it yet," said Kees. "Or kids that have already demonstrated that they know it... how we can extend and enrich their learning?"
So, whether students are getting extra help or an extra challenge, every one of them benefits from Topper Time. It's this model of teaching that the district Superintendent Fran Finco wants to see at every kindergarten through 8th grade school beginning next fall.
"What's brought the focus on extra learning time for kids is... this goes back a lot of years..., but for our district it was about how can we continually get better to meet the needs of the kids that we're not meeting," said Finco.
The hope is that if the district can find an answer to this question, they can eliminate the achievement gap and all students will be performing at grade-level. Finco hopes this extra learning time, or Topper time as the middle school calls it, will be the answer to the problem.
"It's kind of an equal opportunity intervention," said Finco.
As Onalaska Middle wraps up their second year with this schedule, the principal has some thoughts on this new learning time.
"Right now, based on those assessments, I feel like we're moving in the right direction," said Kees. "We're not their yet, but we're moving in the right direction."
This 8th grade classroom teacher agrees.
"It's a satisfying kind of teaching," said Rude. "It's a different kind of teaching 'cause you really feel like you're getting the students the help they need."
And it's happening between the bells.