Learning centers aid grades 7-12

FAIRMONT — Fairmont High School has developed several “centers” for students who need a little more help after school.

There are separate writing, math and science centers staffed by instructors willing to help any students in grades 7-12.

Principal Kim Niss explained that the math and writing centers began last school year, and they recently added the science center.

Niss said the first center began after the school hired Charlotte Harris-Hoffstrom, an ELL teacher at the high school who also teaches a writing class at Minnesota State-Mankato.

“That’s what prompted us,” Niss said. “We’d always wanted a writing center, so when we hired her knowing she had that background in writing, we asked if she wanted to be the facilitator of the center and she said absolutely.”

The writing center is open Wednesdays after school but Harris-Hoffstrom also opens the center during FAST time on Thursdays.

“When I see a lot of kids utilizing the writing center, that’s when I know there must be a paper or essay due soon so that’s how I know the kids are utilizing the center,” Niss said.

“When an essay is assigned, the English teachers are good about sending students here,” Harris-Hoffstrom said.

She also helps students with history papers, health class assignments, ELL classes and more. In addition, she has helped students write letters for college applications.

After the writing center took off, the school implemented the math center. Then, this school year, the science center was added. The math and science centers are open Mondays and Wednesdays beginning at 3:30 p.m. The math and science departments created a rotation schedule so that one staff member from each department is at the center each day it is open.

Niss said the science center is having a bit of a slow start because it just began, but she imagines the number of students using it will pick up.

“As kids come in, they track attendance, so we know how many students are visiting the centers each day,” she said.

Niss said classroom teachers do a great job of letting students know they are available to help, but if a student needs more help and the teacher needs to leave soon after school, the teachers are really good about referring students to the centers.

“We told the instructors [at the centers] that if there are students there willing and wanting to get the help, remain with them. So we don’t necessarily have a closing time,” Niss said.

There are posters around the school and in many classrooms advertising the centers and their hours. Another place where information about them can be had is on a hyperdoc that students can access on all of the school’s Chromebooks. Information on locations and hours can be found under the “help” tab.

“In addition to our three centers that are very focused with a subject, we also have a before- and after-school study table that’s open every day,” said Niss, noting that teacher Eric Johnson runs the study table.

“He’s very knowledgeable in every subject so he’s a good resource, but if kids are having consistent questions in math, science or writing, he also knows about the centers and can refer them to those,” Niss said.

The study table is open daily from 7:30-8:15 a.m. and then again from 3:15-4 p.m.

Niss said that these centers are helpful to students and consistency is a key piece.

Niss said one thing the school would like to see grow is the use of peer tutors in the centers.

“Right now, we do offer a credit for our students to act as peer tutors during the day,” she said, explaining that there is a peer tutor available every hour of the school day during this semester.

In addition, Niss said that if students are interested in earning some volunteer hours by helping out in the after school centers, they can.

“It’s hard to ask for help the first time, but once they do it, we see that they will come back,” she said. “But our focus this semester is trying to get our kids to use these resources we have available to them.”