Patti Welder students trade in spring break for studying
March 17, 2012 at midnight
Updated March 16, 2012 at 10:17 p.m.
Grades three through eight take STAAR exams each year in reading and writing.
Fourth- and seventh-graders also take writing, while fifth-graders take science.
Eighth-graders take the most tests: reading, math, science and social studies.
The eighth-graders will then, in high school, take end-of-course exams in the categories of reading, math, science and social studies.
There are 12 end-of-course exams, three for each area of study.
Source: Texas Education Agency
Outside an abandoned Patti Welder Middle School, chirping birds took the place of young voices, and the late-morning temperature flirted with 80 degrees.
All signs pointed to a typical spring break - except for the students who sacrificed sleeping in to call the school their own for the week.
About 12 to 15 students a day showed up to take advantage of the school's State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tutoring sessions, which sought to prepare eighth-graders for the state's new assessment.
"They really could sleep in late ... They're not doing it for the snacks," teacher Janie King joked while taking a break from studying to enjoy popcorn with students and teachers.
The week was informal and laid back, and while certainly some students came at the behest of their parents, still others came for some one-on-one instruction that would ease their fears as the much-anticipated - or much-dreaded - STAAR test nears.
"I'm starting to learn more how to work out the problems," said 13-year-old Treylon Fillmore. "There aren't as many kids who disturb you. You're able to learn."
When break time was over, Treylon helped teacher Caleigh Etheridge sort through a fraction problem.
"5 girls to 3 boys. How many girls if there are 123 boys?" was the question scribbled on a handheld white board.
While Treylon explained how to set up and solve the problem, his peers across the cafeteria were getting their dose of reading help for the half day of tutoring.
Teacher Rita Ramirez did an exercise in words with multiple meanings and asked students to draw the first thing that came to their minds when she said the word, "club."
One drew a dance club with a disco ball.
Another drew friends in a school club.
And another sketched a golf club.
"That's why it's important to pay attention to how the word is used," Ramirez told students, reminding them to look at the context of their reading.
Ramirez said Patti Welder students have shown they are motivated and eager to learn the concepts they may have struggled with during the year.
"They also know we are here giving up spring break, too, and that we care," she said. "When they see that from us teachers, that we are sacrificing too, they want to meet us halfway."
Every hour, students rotated classes.
In Justin Gabrysch's history class, they matched up flashcards with sayings like "14th Amendment" and "Federalist Papers" with their definitions, while country music wafted through open windows.
And in science class, students studied two different atom diagrams, while King reminded them either drawing could show up on the STAAR test.
Dakota McDonald, 14, said he was satisfied having dedicated the time to reviewing topics and appreciated the slower pace of the week.
When it comes to the STAAR, he's as prepared as ever.
"Whatever happens, happens," he said.