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Responding to Student Needs

Teachers change instructional practices in response to students and environmental factors.

Since Park View High School opened its doors in 1976, principal Anne Brooks has, for the most part, been there to see the changes.

Brooks started out as an English teacher at a time when lecturing was the common teaching method and computers were an uncommon site in classrooms. As Brooks moved up from teacher to department chair to dean and to assistant principal, she watched the school and other Loudoun high schools change in response to new research and technology and to the needs of businesses and students.

"One of the biggest changes, I think, is we have researched how people learn and the effective methods to teach people," said Brooks, an educator for the past 32 years. "Before, teachers were good at school, worked hard, loved kids and taught the way they've been taught. Now, we know so much more about learning and teaching."

Brooks spent two years as an English teacher in Indiana and three years as an English teacher at Loudoun County High School before she started teaching English at Park View. She coached for 15 years, including basketball and track and field, until she moved into administration. In 1990, she became assistant principal at Park View and served in the same role at Broad Run from 1994-98. That year, a principalship position opened at Park View, making her the county's first female high school principal.

OVER THE YEARS, Brooks saw educators become more reflective and analytical about what they do. They now know how the brain functions and about different learning styles. They use varied instructional practices and analyze how they pose questions, noting that in the past, students could hide from being called on with a few students answering all of the questions. Now, teachers want every student in their classes to contribute.

"That's one of the big ways we work on disparity," Brooks said, adding that educators take into account where students are born and raised and their different cultures, along with the environmental influences of television, video games and computers on students.

At Park View, 58.9 percent of students are white, compared to 20 years ago when most of the student population was white. With a diverse student population, teachers need to be inclusive and find ways for students to talk about their backgrounds, Brooks said. "It makes everyone feel included. We make a very big effort to make sure everyone can see themselves in our displays and our curriculum," she said.

Various subjects, including history and literature, include the influences of minorities and women in the material and assignments. Students are encouraged to take classes that once were traditional for either boys or girls. Girls now take shop, drafting and computer classes and boys, home economics and family education. "The girls have benefited from it. You can see more girls in athletics and in the math and science fields," Brooks said.

As far as environment, "Everything's so fast ... I think kids today are different because they are so much more adaptable and flexible. They deal with change better than [kids did] when I was growing up," Brooks said. "They like things to be instant and colorful. They expect color, action and interaction."

AS A RESULT, teachers use a variety of teaching methods to engage students' different learning styles, requiring students to use visual, auditory and tactile skills and to know their preferred learning styles. For example, teachers may use different colored chalk and paper for assignments to appeal to students' visual needs and include board games, diagrams and laboratory assignments to provide tactile learning.

"Instruction is more responsive to kids," Brooks said. "Twenty years ago, the effective teachers used variety and were charismatic. Teachers today are absolutely trained to be educators."

More is expected of students, who beginning this year have to pass six Standards of Learning (SOL) assessment tests in order to graduate from Virginia public schools. They are required to earn 22 credits for a standard diploma and 24 credits for an advanced studies diploma, which also requires students to pass nine SOL tests instead of six. As in the past, they need four credits in English to graduate, but now have to earn three credits in each of mathematics, science and the social sciences and two to three credits in foreign languages depending on whether they decide to study two or one languages.

"We're expecting a lot more from kids, not just from the best and brightest," said Sharon Ackerman, assistant superintendent for instruction. "High school has become much more sophisticated and the program has become richer."

Loudoun high schools now offer electives in mathematics, science and social sciences and a greater range of elective courses, including those in career and technical education, computer sciences and photography. More and more courses that used to be considered college level are offered in high schools, typically as Advanced Placement courses that allow students to earn college credit.

"There are so many high expectations on students because of the state testing, because of the demand in curriculum and because of the needs of America's workplace," Brooks said about the addition of computers and other equipment, such as fax machines and shredders, that were not in the typical office 20 years ago. "We're not only teaching content, we're teaching a whole bevy of skills."

SCHOOLS ARE EXPECTED to teach relationship skills and character traits to prepare students for the work world, where they may be required to work in teams and provide some kind of customer service.

Park View posts the school's five character words at various places throughout the building that includes caring, trust, responsibility, respect and family. Each month, teachers and staff encourage students to focus on a character trait through events, displays and the daily announcements. For example, the trait for September is friendship, October, responsibility, and November, sportsmanship.

"Kids living in this world come to school with a lot more knowledge about things," Ackerman said. "They're a lot more sophisticated, too. They are able to access information and are exposed to so many different things."

At the same time, schools provide a variety of remediation opportunities for struggling students. Twenty years ago, schools offered before and after school study time for disciplinary reasons and for athletes who missed class, or required the students to retake the classes they failed. Now, Park View and Loudoun's other secondary schools provide SOL preparation times and an 88-minute period block for remediation and other school-related activities, allowing students to get the help they need without coming in before or after school. As of this year, all of the county's middle and high schools are on an eight-period block schedule with four classes on alternate days.

"You'll see high school teachers moving away from lectures. That's absolutely necessary in a block schedule," Ackerman said. "You just can't lecture for 90 minutes. ... You can't do the same thing for the whole period of time. You have to break up the activities."

Teaching practices and the environment students live in has changed, but the students still have remained the same in a few ways. "Kids still love to get together. They love their cars ... and talking about their teachers. They don't like homework, but they still like school," Brooks said. "The school is a community place, that hasn't changed."