Nov. 6, 2012
Kim Hoj, OVN correspondent
Visit the Nordhoff High School campus on a Wednesday night and you will find a thriving buzz of activity in the science wing. Three Nordhoff High School teachers conduct weekly open-door support sessions for students in their science classes that attract as many as 100 or more students per night.
Chemistry teacher Jeff Sloneker, geoscience teacher Greg Lepine and physics teacher Ken Umholtz are in their classrooms each Wednesday from 7 to 10 p.m. to offer a supervised setting for students to complete homework, receive tutoring on challenging concepts, and to make up missed labs, tests and quizzes.
Lepine shares that “the value for me as a teacher is simple. I get to help kids learn. The environment is relaxed and kids are working on science homework as well as work from other classes. I can answer individual questions and spend time re-teaching material to small groups as needed.”
For Sloneker, he reports that the Science Help Night sessions lead to more immediate and stronger relationships with students with an embedded place for longer assignments to be tackled together, especially for students who miss a lab. “Students stop looking at me as the all-knowing brain holding back info from them and more as a coach going through it with them,” says Sloneker.
The origins of this Nordhoff tradition date back at least 15 years and expanded once Sloneker began his career in Ojai, recognizing a need to offer support for the typically high-achieving, highly-committed students in his chemistry classes. “(These students) seemed pretty frustrated … there was a definite no-fun zone in my classes …” before the addition of the weekly Wednesday night sessions that are planned late enough for students to be able to attend after other commitments. Students are encouraged to bring food to share in keeping with a welcoming atmosphere of support.
Student feedback is altogether positive. “I come here because it gives me something to focus on. I can have Mr. Sloneker help me and then I can help my two friends and they can help me,” says sophomore Kyle Hoyt, who has a goal of pursuing a career in either biology or marine science. “At my old school, they did not have anything like this.”
Junior Marin Jorgensen commented, “I come to Wednesday night help because if I do not come to Wednesday night help, I do not know how to do my homework … for chemistry. This is a resource that I can use. Whatever I cannot figure out on my own, I can work on with my classmates and my teacher. I missed (the lead iodide) lab so it is also a great thing (that) I can make up labs, tests or quizzes here. I missed class to attend a crosscountry meet.”
Junior Dustin Boynton offers his perspective. “I come to Wednesday night help every week for all the hours (offered) to get help on chemistry.” When asked why he attends, Boynton says that it is “the social interaction and the extra credit” that motivate him to attend. Each session he attends earns him two points toward his end of the semester grade. According to Boynton, 90 percent of the students in his chemistry class attend the weekly sessions.
In the 2011-2012 school year, the Science Help nights logged over 2,500 student hours, which Sloneker believes is reflected in the strong scores for Nordhoff students in last spring’s STAR test results for the science department courses. Principal Greg Bayless said, “This program characterizes the excellent community that exists at Nordhoff. It’s a community where teachers care about students, students are invested in their own learning and where students help other students. And, it’s a place where learning is fun, especially learning science on Wednesday nights.”
Sloneker also described the positive support from Nordhoff administration, parents, Young Life and the Ojai community. “Last year a (local) chemist … tutored a few students weekly just because he was excited about what we are doing. Leaders from Young Life often come in to serve kids and help clean up. The administration trusts us to be here.”
To connect with the NHS science department, contact Sloneker at email@example.com. Donations of food for Science Help Night are most welcome.