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Virginia Journal of Education

GEN-erating Success in Dinwiddie

A scheduling change helps high-schoolers make connections and get help.


By Sharon Gibbs

At Dinwiddie High School, we believe in the classic adage that “It takes a village to raise a child,” but we were also struggling to find ways for our students to meet each other, engage in fun activities, get the remediation they need, and make connections with faculty and staff members.

Our solution? We call it GEN Block, an advisory period we started last fall as a daily opportunity to build relationships throughout our school. DHS’s mascot is the General, so we named the 40-minute block GEN, which stands for Guidance, Enrichment, and Needs.

GEN Block grew out of a committee of administrators, teachers, ITRTs, and counselors that began meeting last spring, looking for ways to give at-risk students the help they need during the school day. Dinwiddie is a large, rural county, and many of our students have difficulty staying after school for extra help because of transportation issues and parental work schedules.

The committee settled on the idea of scheduling an extra period and using it not only to provide remediation, but to offer a more communal approach to education and create some classes that especially pique the interest of both students and teachers. Thus, the 40-minute GEN Block was born.

The “G” part of the block focuses on giving students additional academic counseling. Each student is assigned an advisor, who meets with them every Wednesday. Those meetings are held in groups of 15-17 and include students in every grade at DHS. Students stay with the same advisor and classmates for their entire high school careers, for three reasons. One, younger students can establish relationships with upperclassmen with whom they might otherwise have little contact, which creates not only friendships but another guidance option for freshmen and sophomores. Two, the advisor has a weekly checklist for each student, including missing work, attendance, grades, and any issues the student is having with a teacher or school in general. So the advisor becomes the student’s go-to person. And third, this advisory block provides a time for students with make-up work to complete it during the school day without missing class time. We created a Google form allowing teachers to submit missing assignments to a coordinator, who both notifies students and oversees the make-up work.

The guidance portion of the block lasts all year; the enrichment component rotates every six weeks. Students can choose an enrichment option for every day of the week except for Wednesday’s advisory session. Our teachers create enrichment courses based on their own interests, allowing students to create new connections with faculty members outside of the traditional classroom setting. Some of the courses being offered now include a puppy room, archery, robotics, conspiracy theories, sewing, line-dancing, yoga, A.P. Prep, and body transformation. Since GEN Block happens right in the middle of the school day, it provides a much-needed break for both students and teachers. In addition, GEN Block also allows us to free up time for teachers, students, and parents after school. For example, club meetings, band practices, and other after-school activities can be scheduled during GEN Block.

The final and perhaps most important component of GEN Block is need-based remediation. If students require additional help, they can get it four days a week during school, eliminating the need for after-school transportation. A day is set aside for core classes, including English, math, science, social studies and world languages, and students who need help can either recommend themselves or be identified by teachers. Once a student masters the concept or unit that’s been a struggle, he or she returns to their previously selected enrichment course. This block of time is also used to remediate term graduates who need verified credits to graduate.

This approach allows us to provide incremental remediation when concepts are fresh in the minds of the students rather than inundating them with a vast amount of information just prior to a Standards of Learning or other test. 

An additional asset to teachers has been the creation of in-house professional learning communities (PLC). Each department is allotted time once a week during the GEN Block to meet and discuss whatever current issues need to be addressed. This has been extremely helpful with lesson planning, professional development, and curriculum writing. Previously, teachers would hold a monthly meeting after school to address these issues. Now, it happens weekly without using after-school time.

We think GEN Block has been a success at DHS. New relationships have been formed, creating a more friendly and nurturing learning environment. We offer new enrichment activities and as different ones are suggested and new student needs are identified, we incorporate them, too. The GEN Block is another step in the right direction toward meeting the needs of our students.

Gibbs, a member of the Dinwiddie Education Association, is an assistant principal at Dinwiddie High School.


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