Din­wid­die Schools ini­ti­ates ‘GEN Block’ to im­prove qual­ity of life

New 40-minute pe­riod in­creases stu­dent at­ten­dance, en­gage­ment

The Progress-Index - - FRONT PAGE - By Kelsey Re­ichen­berg Staff Writer

DIN­WID­DIE — A new ini­tia­tive known as the “GEN Block” is im­prov­ing the qual­ity of life for both stu­dents and teach­ers at Din­wid­die Mid­dle and High Schools.

The GEN Block, which stands for Guid­ance, En­rich­ment, and Needs, is a new 40-minute pe­riod in the mid­dle of the school day that al­lows stu­dents to at­tend fun ac­tiv­i­ties of their choos­ing, meet with their ad­vi­sors weekly, and re­ceive ad­di­tional aca­demic as­sis­tance all dur­ing school hours.

In April 2018, a com­mit­tee con­sist­ing of teach­ers, coun­selors, and ad­min­is­tra­tors came to­gether and brain­stormed ways they could bet­ter reach stu­dents’ needs dur­ing the school day so they wouldn’t have to stay af­ter school.

“Din­wid­die is such a large county that a lot of times stu­dents don’t have trans­porta­tion to stay, or their par­ents work and they can’t come get them,” said Sharon Gibbs, Din­wid­die High School (DHS) as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal and GEN Block co­or­di­na­tor. “So we were try­ing to fig­ure out how to meet our stu­dents’ needs within the school day.”

While brain­storm­ing the com­mit­tee no­ticed that other school di­vi­sions use re­me­di­a­tion ses­sions within their school day, but they wanted to take that idea and ex­pand it. Even­tu­ally, the GEN Block idea was born, and ad­min­is­tra­tion be­gan to im­ple­ment it at the start of the 2018-2019 school year. Now, each day from 10:30 - 11:10 a.m., ev­ery mid­dle and high school stu­dent at­tends GEN Block.

“We built it into our sched­ule,” Gibbs said. “So they go to two reg­u­lar classes, and then [the GEN Block] breaks it up in the mid­dle of the day, and then we have two classes af­ter that.”

The “E” in GEN Block, which stands for En­rich­ment, in­volves stu­dents spend­ing four days of the week in en­rich­ment cour­ses of their choos­ing. Stu­dents are able to choose from dozens of fun ac­tiv­i­ties taught by teach­ers, in­clud­ing archery, stress man­age­ment, yoga, ro­bot­ics, in­door/ out­door beau­ti­fi­ca­tion, laser en­grav­ing, col­lege prep work­shops, Harry Pot­ter, blue­print draw­ing, ca­reers in medicine, gui­tar jam, adult col­or­ing, and im­prov, just to name a few. Ex­tracur­ric­u­lar clubs, such as the Ran­dom Acts of Kind­ness (RAK) Club, are also able to uti­lize the GEN Block to hold weekly meet­ings in­stead of hav­ing to hold a meet­ing once a month af­ter school. Stu­dents take their en­rich­ment classes in a six-week ro­ta­tion be­fore they have the op­por­tu­nity to se­lect new ones.

The one week­day stu­dents don’t spend in en­rich­ment cour­ses, they par­tic­i­pate in Guid­ance - the “G” in GEN Block. Dur­ing guid­ance day, stu­dents meet with their as­signed aca­demic ad­vi­sor to dis­cuss grades, at­ten­dance, and aca­demic and ca­reer plans.

“Each stu­dent is as­signed an ad­vi­sor they will keep all four years, and they meet with them ev­ery Wed­nes­day. The ad­vi­sor is their go-to per­son, so if they have ques­tions and they don’t know who to reach out to, that’s their go-to per­son,” said Gibbs. “So we es­tab­lish a re­la­tion­ship with some­body here at the school from day one when they come in as a fresh­man.”

Lastly, the “N” por­tion of GEN Block is ded­i­cated to Needs, which in­volves stu­dent re­me­di­a­tion and makeup work. Core teach­ers and for­eign lan­guage teach­ers are able to place stu­dents who need ad­di­tional as­sis­tance in re­me­di­a­tion dur­ing the GEN Block.

“So we’re not wait­ing for a re­port card or a progress re­port to tell us how we’re do­ing; we’re get­ting them in there the very week they need it, and they don’t have to stay af­ter school be­cause they’re get­ting it in the school day,” said Gibbs. “And stu­dents who are ab­sent be­cause they’re sick, they go to our makeup work room, and now they’re not miss­ing in­struc­tional time in other classes.”

Gibbs notes that thus far, the feed­back from stu­dents, teach­ers, par­ents, and com­mu­nity mem­bers has been ex­tremely pos­i­tive re­gard­ing the new GEN Block. Not only are stu­dents’ aca­demic needs be­ing bet­ter met dur­ing school hours, but the 40-minute pe­riod al­lows them to de­stress and re­lax in the mid­dle of the school day. They're also able to meet new stu­dents of all gradelevels, and con­nect with

teach­ers who are not their own.

“The won­der­ful thing about GEN Block, you think if you only had four classes a day, you only meet four teach­ers in our school, but now, we re­ally em­brace you as a com­mu­nity be­cause you’re in­ter­act­ing with so many more peo­ple,” said Gibbs. “Our teach­ers will see them out in the com­mu­nity, and they’ll say ‘hey you’re in my GEN Block.’ So we start build­ing these con­nec­tions with ev­ery­one. So that’s been the big­gest suc­cess we think.”

In ad­di­tion to in­creas­ing stu­dent en­gage­ment, there has been a no­table im­prove­ment in stu­dent at­ten­dance - an ac­com­plish­ment ad­min­is­tra­tors be­lieve GEN Block is to thank.

“It pro­vides a break in the day, it gives them some­thing fun to look for­ward to, [and] stu­dents who had at­ten­dance prob­lems be­fore are now com­ing to school just be­cause they’ve con­nected with that GEN Block teacher,” said Gibbs. “So we’ve just seen an in­crease in our school cul­ture and how they’ve em­braced the GEN Block.”

Gibbs notes stu­dents aren’t the only ones benefiting from GEN Block. Teach­ers are also thor­oughly en­joy­ing the pro­gram as they also get the chance to un­wind and teach stu­dents a skill or hobby they per­son­ally en­joy.

“The teach­ers get to pick what they want to do for en­rich­ment, so we didn’t make some­body do some­thing that they didn’t en­joy,” said Gibbs. “We have teach­ers who play gui­tar, so we have kids go­ing to play gui­tar with this teacher. We started a new archery club be­cause so many peo­ple were ex­cited about par­tic­i­pat­ing in archery. We’ve done sewing, and knit­ting, and per­cus­sion,

auto me­chan­ics talk … we’re re­ally just try­ing to reach so many dif­fer­ent in­ter­ests. So many great things have come out of such a sim­ple idea.”

GEN Block is also giv­ing teach­ers the op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate in Pro­fes­sional Learn­ing Com­mu­ni­ties (PLCs) for the first time ever. One day a week dur­ing GEN Block, teach­ers at­tend a PLC, which con­sists of de­part­ment meet­ings, cur­ricu­lum writ­ing, and pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment.

“They get to meet with their de­part­ment once a week, and they can han­dle a lot of these types of ac­tiv­i­ties,” said Gibbs. “So ev­ery­body in English has their PLC on Mon­day, [and] they have their big group meet­ing where they have ei­ther de­part­ment meet­ings, or cur­ricu­lum writ­ing for the county, or pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment. It’s just re­ally nice to set aside that time once a week for them to meet, be­cause they all have dif­fer­ent plan­ning pe­ri­ods.”

Mov­ing for­ward, the schools plan to con­tinue im­ple­ment­ing GEN Block and grow­ing its suc­cess by ask­ing for stu­dents' feed­back and pos­si­bly adding more en­rich­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“Our stu­dents ab­so­lutely love it. They love a break in the day, they love be­ing able to in­ter­act with our teach­ers and see them as real peo­ple with whom they share in­ter­ests,” said Gibbs. “[Su­per­in­ten­dent Dr. Kari We­ston] has heard so many good things from our com­mu­nity, the par­ents re­ally en­joy it, and our kids are re­ally thriv­ing with be­ing able to do so many neat things they never would have been ex­posed to."

[CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO]

Din­wid­die High School stu­dents wash a dog in the puppy room dur­ing GEN Block.

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