Students Attend School over Winter Break; WRITING CAMP Two Schools Hope the Three-Day Instruction Helps Students Improve on FCAT

By Palka, Mary Kelli | The Florida Times Union, December 22, 2009 | Go to article overview

Students Attend School over Winter Break; WRITING CAMP Two Schools Hope the Three-Day Instruction Helps Students Improve on FCAT


Palka, Mary Kelli, The Florida Times Union


Byline: MARY KELLI PALKA

There was a note on the white board at the back of the Raines High classroom: "Christmas Break Begins Dec. 16th."

But that wasn't true for about 90 students who showed up at 8 a.m. Monday for the first of the school's three-day Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test Writing Camp. The camp is voluntary, but strongly suggested, for 10th-graders who will take the writing FCAT on Feb. 9. School staff targeted 100 students who teachers and administrators believed were capable of making great improvements.

Students at Andrew Jackson High are also in school over the winter break, joining Raines as the only schools on the First Coast to note formal FCAT boot camps. They are using grant money, donations from local businesses and alumni.

It's one of the tools that Duval County Public Schools is using, along with winter take-home study packets, to help keep students' focused on their studies during the 18-day holiday break.

Raines sophomore Alonza McQueen, 16, knew he needed some additional help with his writing. He said he had to retake the writing FCAT the last time, in eighth grade. He doesn't want to worry about retakes this time, and if practicing his writing skills for three days during a week all of his friends are out of school helps, he'll concentrate on what needs to be done.

"They say I'm struggling on main idea," he said.

So for four hours Monday, Alonza concentrated on that and much more. The students were split into four groups. One hour each was dedicated to brainstorming, introductions, body and conclusion. Each student concentrated on writing a persuasive essay about the reasons people shouldn't smoke.

The federal Small Learning Communities grant is being used to pay teachers to attend. And beyond better grades, there are monetary incentives for the students, too.

Those who attend and actively participate all three days will get a $50 gift card. Students who attended the camp and later get a 4 out of a possible 6 on the test - 3.5 is a passing grade - will get another $50 gift card. The money for the gift cards, lunch and a school bus to transport students comes from donations from businesses, alumni and others, Principal George Maxey said.

Tierra McGhee, 16, discouraged Maxey from giving out money.

"I'm not coming because of the gift card," she said. "I'm coming because it's bettering me."

The writing FCAT is given to fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders. Although a 3.5 is considered writing on grade level this year, Raines Instructional Coach Janelle Porter said students must earn a 4 next year. …

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