Program gives students hope

Published 9:39 pm Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Without the benefit of a special program at her high school this year, Jett Boswell would not graduate until she is 19 — when many students already are wrapping up their sophomore year of college.

Boswell began the school year as a sophomore. Four months later, she is a junior, and by June she could walk across the stage for graduation.

“Z Block” is the Lakeland High School pilot program that is making the difference. It allows students who have dropped behind in classes or who were held back to catch up and possibly graduate on time.

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“What we wanted to do was develop a program to help students get back in pace and to prevent them from dropping out of school,” said Dr. Thomas Whitley, principal of Lakeland High School.

“The program is designed to give students hope, so that students who are behind don’t get discouraged and give up,” he said. “They can still graduate on time.”

The program helps students catch up for lost time in less time than it would normally take. In addition to a student’s normal schedule of seven classes, “Z Block” students take one or two “Z Block” classes.

After classes are over, instead of going home or hanging out with friends, they have more classes.

There are five classes available for students selected into the program. The student to teacher ratio is 10 to 1 — smaller than most regular classes. They each last for 100 minutes — longer than normal classes — and are more rigorous than normal classes. They also count for twice as much so a student can get one year’s credit in half the time.

Boswell said she enjoys the fast pace at which she gets to work.

“In normal classes, you talk about one thing one day and finish talking about it the next day. In my Z-Block classes, we talk about the whole thing that day and can move on to the next thing tomorrow,” she said.

While the students are doing well in their classes and the program is achieving its goals, it is uncertain whether it will continue next year. Because it is a pilot program, there are chances it will get cut in light of the up-coming budget cuts, school officials worry.

“We’re definitely going to lobby the board to see if we can get the funds for the program next year. There are no guarantees, we’ll get it,” Whitley said. “But we’ll make the best of the program while we still have it.”