A view from the Principal’s office
Oct. 3, 2016
In this “View from the Principal’ Office” I want to address a common question within our community: What is “H-block?” I apologize for the length of this post, despite my best intention; I have not succeeded in a succinct description of this complex time of day.
Just about everything at Hartford is tagged with the letter “H” – we enter through the H-Lobby and our enrichment block is called H-block. No secrets here, the “H” stands for Hartford; in many ways this is an appropriate name for this period in the middle of the day because H-block is a decidedly Hartford phenomenon. Five years ago H-block, conceptually, was created by an all-staff activity that challenged groups of our staff to propose a new schedule that met some need(s).
Many schools have something like H-block. Some schools call it an intervention block or a flex block. In my opinion, the thing that sets Hartford’s version apart was the wisdom of the staff that worked to create H-block from the ground up. This group of teachers decided that H-block’s foci would be to support student’s “academic, social, and emotional needs.” These simple words, written as part of H-block’s mission have defined this time ever since. The fact that, fundamentally, this is a time for students to seek what they need and not simply a “homework call-back time,” has led to many creative uses for this period. It has also led to our greatest challenges. When a school seeks to partner with students beyond their academic success it must give some control over to the students. The best example of this can be found in the fact that Hartford does not have assigned lunch periods. We began this journey by doing so and soon realized that the students had figured out when they could eat and it was working. We also removed the restriction that students must eat only in the cafeteria. Many feared that this would result in significant cleanliness issues – simply stated, nothing could be further from the truth; turns out that when you provide young people with certain freedoms they rise to the challenge. Hartford’s hallways and classrooms are, by and large, very clean.
Some have expressed concern that students, who do not have privilege to do so, leave campus; historically, there has been some merit to this concern. In response to this, we have made significant modifications to our communications with students as we seek to find the balance between meeting the student’s academic, social, and emotional needs and our very real responsibility to ensure student safety. This year I spoke very directly to our senior drivers and shared that, if they are found to be driving non-seniors off campus, they will lose their parking privilege, period. We have also instituted “Random Attendance Checks” during H-block; a small group of student names are announced at some point during H-block and those students are required to report to the front office as evidence of their presence. Administrators follow up with any student who does not report. I am also regularly driving into our community to see if anyone who is not allowed to be off-campus can be found. Despite having done this at least three times a week, every week, I have yet to find a student who was not allowed to be off campus walking about the community.
Ultimately, the thing that will keep students on campus will be their perception of H-blocks value to them. Walking around during H-block I witness students working collaboratively, working with their teachers, accessing other teachers, doing their homework, walking the in-school “loop,” shooting baskets in the gym, eating lunch on the front lawn, throwing a football, accessing the school’s technology, working on an on-line SAT prep program, and talking with each other. Our ninth graders are assigned an “Academic Support” block four times a week and our Band & Choir meets during this time period. Placing Band & Choir in H-block has supported significant growth in both programs. To be honest, I have also seen students running when they should be walking, using language that is not societally appropriate, getting angry, exhibiting their frustration and seeking supports to help them overcome this frustration. In other words, I watch kids, be… kids. This all takes place within a supportive environment with adults who are there and who are trusted to celebrate with them, guide them, provide boundaries for them – partner with them. I am sure, despite our heightened vigilance, the occasional non-senior has left campus. I am equally confident that this is a small number and that we will continue improving our efforts to ensure students adhere to this expectation. Traditionally, schools have chosen to enact expectations that limit the 90% to meet the needs of the 10%. H-block is an example of just the opposite; the VAST majority of our students daily take advantage of their H-block opportunities in appropriate ways; those who choose to do otherwise will be dealt with in an equally appropriate manner.
As Hartford continues to partner with students in the creation of unique learning opportunities we will find more uses for H-block. It already provides time in the day for students to take a Dartmouth class without requiring the students to miss the remainder of their schedule. Students engaged in project-based learning will need more time as they find the value of failing and persevering through multiple attempts in the learning process. H-block will provide our students the opportunity to learn at their own pace. We have just scratched the surface of the opportunities that we will see grow out of this time of day.
Hartford High School