If the state's school districts want to help students who fall just short of succeeding, they will have to embrace non-traditional teaching methods. Rock Hill's Saturday school program is just such an approach.
Beginning in January, about 130 local students will attend school from 8:45 a.m. to noon on Saturdays for 12 or 13 weeks. The program is voluntary, so these children are not being forced to give up their Saturdays to put in more time studying.
We suspect that these students and their families regard Saturday classes as a lifeline, one more chance to catch up with peers and climb up the educational ladder. The program is targeted at fourth- and fifth-grade students who came close to scoring "basic" on the state's Palmetto Achievement Challenge Tests but didn't quite make it.
In many cases, these are students who may lack self-esteem, who may not have a firm educational foundation for one reason or another or who have simply not been motivated to learn. Similar programs in other states have shown that students such as these often respond well to individualized attention from teachers and extra time spent on learning basic reading, writing and math skills.
Proponents of this approach note that Saturday classes help relieve the pressure that often occurs in the normal classroom. The extra time in class gives students a chance to catch up at their own pace. In similar programs in other states, most of the students who spent the extra time in the classroom went on to complete eighth grade and attend college.
The Rock Hill program is loosely modeled after the Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP, which is used in special charter schools across the country. Students in KIPP schools often attend school from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on some Saturdays.
Some area schools already have moved to year-round schedules. Local districts also might consider adding hours to the school day, as KIPP schools do, to help students who otherwise might fall through the cracks.
The Saturday classes in Rock Hill will be a relative bargain. The district already has hired nine full-time and seven part-time teachers for the program, with a total price tag, including supplies, of about $30,000.
We applaud district officials for their willingness to embrace a new idea like this and to target students who can succeed with a little extra help. It seems likely that even students will regard this program as Saturday mornings well spent.