'This is the best thing that has happened at our school'

For all 7th- through 12th-graders here, it's an eight-period day. Most of those periods are concerned with academic credit, but not the fifth period, apparently the most popular, which begins promptly at 11:30 a.m.

A visitor to Chelsea High School might think the stampede had something to do with recess or a lunch break. But it's not; it's the rush to get to "Enrichment."

"This is the best thing that has happened at our school," a senior declared as she rushed by. That was a telling comment, since she was on the state runner-up basketball team last year. And from a teacher:

"I've always heard that kids love to learn, but this is the first time that I've been convinced of it -- and I've been around schools for 15 years."

Fifth period is the only period in an eight- period day at the small school when every one of the 145 students and every one of the 15 faculty members is involved in the learning process. No study halls for students, no planning periods for teachers, occur during fifth period.

The program is geared to marking periods (the school has six a year), with the seniors allowed first choice at the classes in the first go-round. Then juniors and on down to seventh-graders.

While most of the Enrichment Period offerings run as mini-courses for six-week periods, to be repeated or changed to further offerings as suggested by students or teachers, some allow students to sign up for the year. This is the case, for example, with Latin.

Another one available for the whole year is "travel," a progressive but blocked course that permits dropping out at the end of the marking periods or new enrollments. In addition to basics of map reading, guidebook study, and trip-cost analysis, "travel" includes travelogues (slides or movies) of places around the world, so that a student may plan and budget his own dream vacation by the end of the school year.

Would-be writers can enroll in "creative" or "expository" writing. Those wishing to develop or hone speech skills have flocked to "debate" (10 of the 16 students the first term were freshmen), or "forensics" or "oral interpretation of literature."

Concerned young people have had a chance for a mini-course on the "A-bomb," as well as a seminar on divorce, while those of creative bent can select "experimental photography" or "basic art."

Given the trend toward wood for fuel in Vermont, a practical course in wood-lot safety is another popular choice, while those trying to learn to play musical instruments also have their opportunity. Naturally "social dancing" is another favorite.

Built into the enrichment schedule are class meetings as well as meetings of organized clubs that previously had caused disruptions in the school day. Now academic classes for credit run without interruption; student attitudes are super; and teachers are gloating over the newfound eagerness.

"It's marvelous!" claims the creative- writing instructor. "I don't dread papers to correct and mark; we interact in class on writing problems and techniques."

The enrichment program grew out of release time allowed teachers one day a week last year to develop ideas to solve class interruptions and improve curriculum. From the weekly hour-long meetings evolved the concept of a program aimed at "exploring new realms and increasing cultural horizons."

No one dreamed that the program, seen as a necessity for the better education of students in the rural community, would prove to be a morale booster as well.

"How will we get students to participate and learn if no credit is offered?" was a question repeatedly posed. Since teachers would be teaching skills they enthusiastically wanted to share, and since students would have such a wide variety of offerings, proponents felt that the enrichment program just might work.

The principal had one rule at the outset: "If the program goes, everyone, including students and teachers, will be involved." Everyone is -- and maybe that's where the key lies to the high mo rale and enthusiasm.

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