Administrators and campus supervisors stand at the exit-entry points of Palo Alto High School after sixth period today, while students are seen sneakily sprinting, hiding behind objects and hopping over fences. This is the new Tutorial, at least for now.
With the start of the 2015-16 school year, Paly administrators have instituted punitive measures for failing to attend Tutorial, an hour-long block on T days, initially created to give students a time to learn outside of the classroom.
According to Principal Kim Diorio, when the bell schedule was established five years ago, Tutorial was envisioned to be a mandatory instructional time built for getting extra help, catching up on homework or talking with teachers.
“Unfortunately, our efforts in the beginning when we first launched Tutorial did not measure with students as originally intended,” Diorio said. “Students then didn’t see the value in it.”
Legally, however, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and the educational code for California both view Tutorial as instructional time with mandatory attendance, according to Diorio. Not only is the school required to be teaching, but if a student is harmed off-campus, the school assumes responsibility.
With that, freshmen and sophomores have been assigned to their Teacher Advisor in hopes of fostering a stronger relationship between student and adult, while juniors and seniors have been assigned to a Tutorial class of approximately 12 students, Diorio said.
“We want to encourage those relationships between students and their Teacher Advisors,” Diorio said. “We’re trying to build a climate of care in our campus.”
Tutorial will provide another opportunity for teachers to check-in with students and let them know that the administrators and staff are here to support them, according to Diorio. If students do not sign in to their designated class, they will receive a “cut” and their parents will be notified. If students are found not using the time wisely, administrators will approach them, according to Diorio.
“I think what’s most likely to happen is having administrators, campus supervisors or counselors out at the exit-entry points at campus saying, ‘Hey, where are you going,’” Diorio said. “We’d like for you to stay on campus.”
Despite the disciplinary measures, Diorio has high hopes for the future of Tutorial, seeking to rebrand it as a “gift of time” to learn a new skill.
Students can complete school-related work, whether it be by meeting for a group project, completing college applications, talking to a teacher or doing homework. For those who do not have such work, Diorio seeks to create Tutorial activities that include meditation, yoga, student-guided workshops, teacher-mediated activities or speakers.
“I’d love to see us use that hour as a time where everyone is learning,” Diorio said. “If you don’t need that extra hour to work … maybe this is an hour where you can do something fun, creative and learn something new. Just for the sake of learning — no grades or points attached.”
Junior Jackson Kienitz, who has attended Paly since his freshman year, looks forward to the additional activities provided during Tutorial.
“It gives students the chance to try new things without the long-term commitment of signing up for a class,” Kienitz said.
Although there are changes to Tutorial this year, the administration is aware that every student utilizes the allotted Tutorial hour in his or her own way.
“We are trying to be really mindful in how we improve Tutorial,” Diorio said. “We’re calling it Tutorial 2.0.”
Diorio also plans to use the attendance trends to assist students who are struggling. The application “Trackavike” gives administration and faculty the ability to scan students into their desired Tutorial class, and thus track which classroom each student has signed into.
According to Diorio, administrators will be able to see “where kids need additional help, what classrooms they want to go to, and … when students are struggling to see how they have been managing their time.” If a student has been struggling in math but has been attending their history Tutorial, for example, counselors can immediately recognize the problem.
From a student’s perspective, some are angry about the change, in part because juniors and seniors must walk far to check-in with an unfamiliar teacher.
“Everyone is just upset that they have to walk across campus to a random classroom,” junior Nathaniel Hancock said.
Kienitz believes the issue will soon pass, as students just need time to get acquainted with the mandatory attendance system.
“I think the discontent with mandatory Tutorials is a temporary problem,” Kienitz said. “It’s simply a matter of getting used to it.”
The administration looks forward to giving students an additional hour to learn, according to Diorio.
“It’s going to take some time to shift that, for students to understand the value of Tutorial as we see it,” Diorio said. “But we think there’s value in it, or else we wouldn’t have given it up as instructional time in this thing we call Tutorial.”