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Starting a new year, new schedules in School District 300

An assembly featuring youth motiviational speaker Jeff Yalden from MTV show 'Made' was tap Monday for students first day District

An assembly featuring youth motiviational speaker Jeff Yalden from the MTV show "Made," was on tap Monday for students on the first day of District 300 classes at Jacobs High School in Algonquin. August 13, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 15, 2012 6:09AM

ALGONQUIN — Take time to laugh. Take time to think. Take time to feel.

And lower your expectations. Although that probably doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Those were the messages delivered by heavily tattooed motivational speaker Jeff Yalden, who has been a coach on the MTV show “Made,” to students during an all-school assembly Monday at Jacobs High School.

“Our expectations are too high. What if we go through life and we go through the year and we lower our expectations and focus on the objective?” Yalden said.

“If you do that, you can take control of your life, you can take control of your attitude, you can take control of your choices.”

That assembly came on the first day of the 2012-13 school year, as Jacobs set its objective — the same three points of “Eagle Pride” it stresses every year, according to Associate Principal Bo Vossel: “Be respectful. Be responsible. Be ready.”

Making objectives

It also came as Community Unit School District 300 remakes the schedule this school year for its three high schools, which also include Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville and Hampshire High School in Hampshire.

Sophomore Nicole Magerko, 15, of Lake in the Hills liked the way Yalden had woven his own story through his message: how he’d been abused as a child, how his parents had been alcoholics, how they’d thrown him out of the house the day he graduated high school, how he’d finished No. 128 of 133 students in his senior class.

That made it “more personal,” Magerko said.

“I really got out of it that people in the world can really be pretty mean and cruel, and you have to find it within you to make people’s lives better. Otherwise, it’s going to be a vicious cycle of anger and hate,” she said.

High school can be “a lot” like that, she added.

She and several schoolmates at Jacobs High School said they never have seen the show “Made,” which pairs coaches with high school and college students ages 15-24 who have a goal or objective, who want to be made into something else. But they shared the goals they have made for the new school year.

Sirena Galvan, 17, of Carpentersville, wants to be made into a “B” student, she said.

Galvan had “awesome grades” her freshman year — but, she said, “life got in the way.” She finished her junior year as a “straight-D student,” and with graduation approaching, she’s trying to figure out if she’s going to go on to community college or what she wants to do.

“For me, it’s going to be a really challenging year,” she said.

First challenge

The three high schools in District 300 faced their first challenge Monday — not just the first day of school but also the first day of school on an eight-period schedule.

“The first day of school is always chaotic, but I didn’t get the sense the schedule change had to do with the chaos,” said Ben Churchill, assistant superintendent for high school in District 300.

The school board voted in September for the new schedule, the first time it had looked at restructuring its high school schedule since 1996. Dundee-Crown and Hampshire started that schedule today, while Jacobs started with a modified “Eagle Pride Day” schedule for the assembly.

The decision followed seven months of discussion; several proposed schedules; and meetings with parents, students and staff.

And it’s something that made Genevieve Goelz, 16, Algonquin “really nervous” when she learned about it last year. The junior had enjoyed being able to concentrate and study for just four classes at a time, she said.

Previously, the high school year was split into four terms in the Carpentersville-based district. Each day of the term was split into four 86-minute blocks and a required advisory period of 20 to 30 minutes.

The eight-period schedule now splits the school year into two semesters. Each day is split into eight 45-minute periods, although only freshmen and sophomores will be required to take a 45-minute advisory period or study hall.

That means the school day includes an additional 20 minutes of instruction, according to Churchill. And it better aligns with research on student learning and the new assessments and expectations of the Common Core Standards Illinois is adopting, the district has said.

“I was expecting not to like it, but I actually kind of do like it,” Goelz said.

Galvan agreed. “It’s very different from the four-block, but it’s actually really nice because you don’t have to sit there as long.”

That’s where Jacobs’ objective to “be ready” comes in, Vossel said.

After the schedule was approved, District 300 arranged meetings between its high school and middle school teachers, the latter already on an eight-period schedule, Churchill said. It sent teams of teachers to observe the school day in surrounding districts also on an eight-period schedule.

And teachers spent six months of late-start mornings and after-school meetings on professional development, learning to pace the same material over shorter, more-frequent class periods, he said.

On the first day, Dundee-Crown Principal Lynn McCarthy said, the only glitch — if it could be called that — was some confusion over the staggered lunch periods. But the school positioned teachers in the lunchroom to help interpret the bells, and few students were late, even at the beginning of the day, McCarthy said.

And, Vossel said, “All of a sudden, the bell rings. The halls are crazy, and then everybody is where they’re supposed to be. It’s really great for the first day.”

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