By Keira Krisburg and Sasha Chajet-Wides
At Beacon, students and teachers alike know the daily stampede from the 42nd street subway stations along the cramped blocks of Hell’s Kitchen. Hordes of tired students wait to get through the doors and climb our stairs in the traffic jam of bodies. But on Fridays it’s different. A leisurely stream of students trickles in from around 7:45 all the way to the start of A Band – over an hour later. Some members of the Beacon student body take that time to get more of their much-needed sleep so they can wake up with a new-found energy, different from the rest of the week. Many others arrive at school, their eyes hanging heavy, before their first official class for Small Group Instruction (SGI), an integral part of the Beacon schedule.
In our research, we sent students a form where they were able to input their opinions on SGI. Nearly one hundred students across all four grades helped shed light on the various ways they usually use this time, from self-care to getting ahead on homework. Though the responses came from a small portion of the school, it is overwhelmingly clear how beneficial SGI is. Even if they don’t come consistently, most students have been to SGI at least once.
There are many uses for SGI mentioned in the survey. Math ended up being the subject with the most students who go, according to the responses. Students use SGI as a classwork period across all subjects, often completing work independently in a teacher’s classroom. Others do the same in the library or hallway as they would for a free period. Similar to a free period, some take SGI time as a chance to hang out with friends in school. Some hang out in their favorite teacher’s room, and Teacher’s Assistants will go to help students. There are so many reasons for attending SGI, but the two most common ones in the survey responses were to get one-on-one time with their teacher for help and retake a test, lab, or quiz.
The class sizes at Beacon fluctuate across grades, departments, and even within specific subjects. There are some classes with 23 kids, but many have 30 or more students with only one teacher. Due to the large class size, teachers often do not get to answer all of the students’ burning questions thoroughly. Despite this, the success of Beacon students has been in large part because of SGI. It offers an easy solution to students who need more one-on-one support or tutoring from their teachers. The answer is in the title, Small Group Instruction. When a teacher gets the chance to sit down with a student to answer questions or to guide them through an assignment, that student will absorb more than during class. In just five to ten minutes of SGI tutoring, the amount of attention they get from their teacher is more than they most likely will for the whole duration of a class period.
In addition to our survey of Beacon students, we also wanted to pick the minds of the people who run SGI themselves– the teachers. Within their busy schedules, some teachers were able to take the time to share in an interview with us how they prefer to run their SGI’s.
We interviewed Mr. Scott, a Geometry and Pre-Calc teacher who has taught almost every kind of math class at Beacon. Mr. Scott does not only offer tutoring during his SGI periods. His students also can retake any of their previous assessments during the time. With this opportunity Mr. Scott’s SGI periods often become very busy and he occasionally has difficulties controlling the class. It is difficult to juggle two different activities in one classroom, so he must trust the students who go to SGI for retakes to be honest. Mr. Scott says on some occasions it can be challenging to manage SGI when 20 or more students come for tutoring which is his reason for organizing into groups. One piece of advice Mr. Scott gives to students coming to their math class for tutoring is to have a plan. He explains, “Coming and just saying ‘I’m not doing well, what do I do?’ is not very helpful …So I think students should hopefully come with something in mind and not just kind of show up and hope some magic is gonna happen.” This strategy makes things go more smoothly for both teacher and student.
We also asked the teachers if they have any strong opinions on how often students should be going to SGI. Mr. Scott believes that “it’s definitely a choice to go” however often the student desires. He talked about how he has some students there for assistance, but there are others who don’t need help in the subject and just want to be challenged further. That definitely emulates the way in which SGI is so versatile.
When asked how SGI is most importantly used among the math department, Mr. Scott’s response was “tutoring.” He said, “I think many of us have tutoring times outside of SGI as well, but it is the one time that we know everyone is free and can come get help if they need it.”
On the third floor, Spanish teacher Karen Cooper gave us an in-depth sight into her SGI period. Everyone comes in with a variety of goals like making up lessons or showing her homework that was missed while absent. Some students also require additional time to work on assessments, so Ms. Cooper’s class provides a quiet place to do so. Specifically, she explained that people frequently come to her to “discuss some strategies for studying.” As a language teacher, Ms. Cooper has many assessments throughout the semester, and since language is cumulative, it is important not to fall behind.
Ms. Cooper is strongly in support of all students attending SGI. With a very serious expression, she said “I think every student should go to SGI. There is always something that a student can get out of SGI… I say to my advisory, even if you have all As, it is an opportunity to connect with your teacher in a small group setting. There’s just always something that you can learn.” Whereas others think you should only go when you need help, Ms. Cooper sees this tool as one of the most valuable assets that Beacon has to offer. “We’re very fortunate the whole school gives students the opportunity for SGI, and it should never be considered ‘oh it’s the day that I sleep in’ which always amazes me.”
She also explained how she believes the timing of SGI is perfect because it is such a nice way to ease into the last day of the week.
Nestled in the corner of the third floor, English teacher Lia Lynch’s room is always bustling with students. When walking in, you are greeted with uplifting music as students work together and ask questions about the assignments. There was definitely a positive ambiance that was unique to other classrooms in the school, with character posters displayed on the walls and festive lights hanging up.
When asked how often students should attend SGI, Lia explained that it should be a “come as you need” basis, that is geared towards struggling students. This slightly differs from how some other teachers see it, as she views SGI as a resource that is there, but isn’t necessary to use if the student doesn’t need it. On a normal Friday Lia said that “Probably less than 5% of my students come each week.” During times where many creative projects and essays are assigned she said, “more than the usual number of students come, so I can give them direction.”
As Beacon students worry about grades, it comes to no shock as they want to make sure they are meeting all of the requirements. Lia gives her students insightful advice on how to analyze various texts and no one leaves the room confused without the help that they needed. Besides just her current students, many former students of Lia’s also stop in to say hi and give advice to some of the freshmen (or possibly steal a granola bar).
Besides these statistics, many students had additional comments about their experiences with SGI. One student, Libby Herrenkohl, reflected that, “I love that our school has SGI but sometimes I wish I took advantage of the time I had to do any extra homework.” Sophomore Beatrice Chalkey brought up another excellent point, “…but the fact that it is only once a week is unfortunate because say you miss school on a Friday or a Monday you have to wait all week to make it up (depending on your teacher’s schedule).” For assignments with pressing deadlines students are often forced to stay after school or come to class during their free bands to make up work instead of SGI. Calling out sick already adds stress on students, and the stress of figuring out scheduling can make matters worse.
SGI is clearly not for only working with teachers, as many students shared how they interact with peers during the period. A student gave a comprehensive description of this: “Sharing a space with other committed, knowledgeable students and being able to confide in them AND perhaps give them your own advice in return is instrumental in growing people’s knowledge and understanding of the subject.” Students are exemplifying Beacon’s core values of collaboration. Everyone has unique strengths in classes, which could be more helpful to another student than just simply talking with a teacher. These responses reflect how Beacon’s student body is composed of unique individuals, each with strategies that work for them.
As you go through Beacon taking challenging courses, opinions on SGI may be subject to change for many participants on the survey. From Algebra 1 to AP Biology, the class material develops and becomes more rigorous. No matter what grade a student is in, we are lucky to be surrounded by others who truly care about our success in the future. While walking around a day at Beacon, you will most likely have at least one teacher checking up on your work, or simply how you are doing. One sophomore put it perfectly, “I think SGI is one of the best features Beacon offers, it should be something that every school has!”