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Leading the way, in personalized education

ConVal School District: High School’s ‘TASC’ program gaining attention throughout the state, as community sees results

  • Taken at ConVal High School
  • Taken at ConVal High School
  • Taken at ConVal High School
  • Taken at ConVal High School
  • Taken at ConVal High School
  • Taken at ConVal High School
  • Taken at ConVal High School

In 2011, ConVal High School created something extraordinary. Something that — even three years after its implementation — educators from across New Hampshire and New England continue to call “revolutionary.”

Guy Donnelly, principal at Kingswood High School in Wolfeboro, said he had attended numerous educational conferences, but couldn’t find what he was looking for: A way to personalize education and engage students.

Then, he found ConVal.

“They have really taken the lead on this and created a working system that provides access to education for all kids,” he said during a recent visit to ConVal, with his faculty and staff, to learn more about ConVal’s unique approach to personalized education. “This system isn’t just for the kids who are struggling and need assistance, it also caters to the students who are excelling.”

ConVal’s solution?

Teams and Academic Support Center, or as it’s known in the offices, classrooms and hallways of ConVal, “TASC.”

“TASC is not a study hall. It’s not an advisory. It’s not an after school help session. It’s not an extra course. Take the best pieces of all of those and that’s what it is,” said ConVal Principal Brian Pickering, addressing some questions from Kingswood High staff.

TASC is a 43-minute chunk of time set-aside every school day, Monday through Friday, where students can sit down with a teacher, receive extra individualized support, work on homework, take a test, or work on a creative enriching project.

It works like this: On the first day of the week, usually Monday morning, students meet with their assigned TASC advisor — an advisor they will keep throughout their career at ConVal. Each student then selects which teachers they will meet with during the TASC block for the rest of the week. They do this using software that instantaneously updates the schedules of nearly 900 students, and was designed specifically for ConVal’s TASC program.

TASC empowers students because they can choose where they want to work, said Pickering. It has the potential to look different for every student and it can be adjusted weekly to meet that student’s changing needs, he said.

For example, Mersadies Robinsons, 17, of Antrim meets most weeks with biology teacher Elizabeth Lawrence. Robinsons is no longer in Lawrence’s class but chooses to go to Lawrence’s room for TASC anyway. “I just feel comfortable with her. She’s an awesome teacher and I know her better,” Lawrence said. In addition to getting help with science, Robinsons said she uses TASC to catch up on homework and study for upcoming quizzes. “[TASC] has really helped me keep my grades up,” she said.

This is exactly what Pickering is hoping happens in TASC. If a student has an upcoming math test they may choose to go to TASC with their current math teacher in an effort to ask questions and prepare for the test, or they can meet with a teacher that explains the concepts in a different way. Or, maybe a student has missed a test in English, instead of having to stay, and miss extracurricular activities or take the late bus, students can make arrangements to take the test during TASC, Pickering explained.

Abigail Cail, 14, of Peterborough said having TASC has allowed her to stay on the honor roll while playing three sports, volleyball, basketball and lacrosse. “Sometimes you get back from a game and it’s really late and it’s nice to know you have TASC the next day to get work done,” Cail said.

Although her grades have always been good, Cail said that second semester they have been even better because she understands how to use her TASC period better. “We didn’t really have anything like TASC at South Meadow School, so at first I wasn’t using it the best, but towards the end of first semester I got the hang of it and I have a lot better grades,” she said.

Once students select their TASC blocks for the week, a new roster is immediately created and updated online. Attendance is taken during TASC because it is a required part of the student’s day.

While the majority of the time TASC is “student-driven,” there are some instances where it becomes “teacher-driven,” said Gregg Morris, math teacher at ConVal. When a student is getting a “D” or an “F” in a class then they are required to attend at least two TASC periods with that teacher.

One of the best things about TASC, Morris added, is how versatile it is.

For example, guidance teachers can create TASC blocks devoted to specific issues like anger management. Or students can create their own enrichment sessions to work on Advanced Placement projects.

ConVal senior Ben Carne of Peterborough was a sophomore the year TASC was implemented. He remembers what was in place before: advisory.

“Advisory was like a study hall, but totally unproductive. It was a huge waste of time,” he said.

TASC on the other hand has allowed Carne to choose the environment he works best in, so he can focus and get stuff done.

The only requirement is TASC time must be used for educational purposes, Pickering said.

ConVal English teacher and Peterborough Rotary Teacher of the Year nominee Angela Hartman said TASC gives students choice and freedom. Which in turn, helps create students who are invested in their education.

At first, Morris said, there were concerns that students would go where their friends were and not focus on academics. And, he admits that does happen. Robinsons said she knows some of her friends will try and all “book” one teacher for a TASC period. But, she said, “the teachers always make them do homework or at least read if they don’t have homework.”

Morris pointed out that one way the teachers address this issue is by using the “comments” section in the TASC software. If a student is not being productive in a certain classroom, teachers can simply let that student’s TASC advisor know. Teachers can also list what the student should be doing or working on in the “comments” box, Morris said.

Since implementing TASC, ConVal has made significant improvements, said Pickering. In addition to reducing overall “D” and “F” grades by 31 percent, homework quality has improved significantly, and student discipline issues have been reduced.

“TASC hasn’t had students coming to school more frequently, but it has given us a huge edge to help students make up work without slowing class time,” explained Pickering.

And, he added, it has created a built-in time for enrichment.

“A lot of my friends love TASC because they can all be booked to one room and become part of a club,” said Cail.

“Art and music teachers love it. Jazz band has extra practice time during TASC. We’ve developed a female a cappella group. Students have created independent studies and prepared for internships,” agreed math teacher Christine Daisy.

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