Eight Rim Country Middle School students sat scattered around the library on Wednesday, detained for not completing their homework in a new program that promotes student accountability.
Two teachers, Kim Young and Susan Kerr, rotated around the room, answering questions, eliciting from students answers the youngsters sometimes knew, but didn’t know they knew and other times explaining a lost concept.
Teachers at the school have volunteered their time to supervise the program, each spending one-and-a-half hours three times each semester.
“I just think it’s awesome that my staff is willing — without pay and without having a raise for quite a while — to put in the time and effort to support this program,” said Principal Gary Witherspoon.
The new MASH program — Mandatory After School Help —requires students who arrived at school without completed homework to stay after school and finish it.
The program started in January, and teachers said students packed the library during its early days — sometimes around 30.
Kerr, who said she had seen days where students numbered as high as 50, added that the large numbers made it difficult for teachers to help the students.
“The students realized, “Oh my goodness. I better get my work done,” said Young, who teaches seventh grade.
Now, fewer students attend. And the program has decreased the failure rate by as much as 75 percent — down to 10 — in one grade during the last school year.
Witherspoon said the first progress report this year showed the lowest number of failures since his arrival two years ago.
Students said they were bored sitting in the library finishing homework they never wanted to complete in the first place, but also said they appreciated the extra chance for learning.
“It sucks,” said Jeremiah Hensley about the program.
“It’s boring,” agreed Chantell Hunter.
“I wish school didn’t have MASH and you just lost a point,” said Brittany Golden, a first-time offender. Time evaporates after school, she added, making homework difficult to complete. She arrives home, eats, watches some television, and suddenly, bedtime has come.
But, Golden added, she liked the assistance teachers provided, and she hadn’t known that was part of the program.
Witherspoon said a few parents have opted out of MASH, instead believing their children should lose the points. “They just believe that it’s their child’s responsibility to get their homework done and not have an extra chance to do it that same day.”
But most families have responded enthusiastically, Witherspoon added.
Witherspoon also helps supervise. “I love it,” he said. “I get to actually work with the kids rather than deal with the discipline situations or a personnel situation — those kinds of things that give you the gray hairs.”
The program appears to work. Data provided by the school shows the number of eighth-grade students failing classes fell from 40 to 10 from the first semester last year to the fourth — a 75-percent decrease.
In the seventh grade, 12 fewer students failed classes at the end of last year, down to 9 students failing. And in sixth grade, the number of students failing fell from 41 to 24 — a 41-percent decline.
MASH runs Monday through Thursday for about an hour-and-a-half after school. Once a teacher realizes that a student failed to complete his homework, the student must report to the office and call his parents, telling them to pick him up at 5 p.m.
“I know it’s an inconvenience for the parents,” said Witherspoon, but he added that perhaps inconvenienced parents will then be motivated to make sure their kids finish their homework.
“I know it’s kind of pushy in a way,” he said. But sometimes, Witherspoon added, “You have to stick to your guns.”