By Kim Tran
The No Bells Initiative (NBI) Spring Picnic welcomed incoming freshmen and their parents last Monday; an event to signify the beginning of a new program on the Novato High campus. The picnic was also a way to introduce the staff, who will guide these students next year. The NBI staff includes English teacher Michael Taber, chemistry teacher Michelle Sanner, Human Geography teacher Daniel Kambur, and Biology teacher Javier Ordoñez. NUSD superintendent Jim Hogeboom and Marin County superintendent of schools Mary Jane Burke were also in attendance for the big launch.
Next school year, the No Bells Initiative program will place the focus on the individual student more than the traditional classroom setting. Students will be able to do what they want and will not have a schedule with set times. Instead, there are meetings depending on how much time the student needs to review the lessons. Each student will be given a mentor and a homeroom class, which will only consist of 20 students.
A typical NBI week will begin on Monday where students and teachers discuss what will happen during the week. The students will meet with their advisory teacher on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. On Fridays, the NBI students and teachers meet up again to discuss and plan what will happen the following week. A school day will include students discussing projects with their advisory teacher for two hours and working on their content using a platform called Summit Base camp.
They are to work on individual assignments for all their classes. During the two hour session, the teacher will meet with students one-on-one for 10 minutes, while advisers walk around the room and assist other students. After advisory time is over, students can work in groups, meet with teachers, or participate in small group activities such as labs, seminars or workshops. After lunch, students will take freshmen PE and have more project time.
There is also a more flexible grading scale put into place. Instead of the rigid, traditional grading policy of "A", "B", "C", "D", and "F", there will be an new grading scale. Sanner spoke on this new flexible system.
“I think it is exciting how the grading scale is. We have ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘not yet’, so there are no D’s or F’s,” said Sanner. “Instead, we are working on continuous improvement and allowing students to keep redoing work until it’s satisfactory to them.”
Kambur elaborated on the grading policy.
“What we are going to use is a rubric [that] has been provided from Stanford. The graduate school of Education at Stanford has a program called Scale. [Scale] presents rubrics that are designed and tried-and-true, that grade you on a variety of different aspects.” said Kambur. “We are going to grade students not only on like ‘does this meet the point’, or ‘is it organized’, ‘is your idea clearly expressed’, but we are also going to look for things in the broader population you might not be graded on. We are going to partially be graded on collaboration and how they work with other people.”
Novato High principal Matt Baldwin described NBI’s goals for next year.
“Some of the main goals for next year is to make sure that we come together as a team, said Baldwin. “To develop a program that truly meets the needs of a kid that is enrolled in the program.”
Baldwin also addressed some of the challenges NBI will face.
“I think we face a systematic challenge in education as a whole.Trying to alter education to meet the needs of kids and that we are addressing the ever changing society,” explained Baldwin. “The challenge is to meet the needs of students but also to prepare them for an ever-changing society by giving them the skills necessary to compete and be successful.”
Sanner spoke on what the vision for NBI will be.
“Our main goals for starting this project were to allow students to pursue things that were more interesting to them. In a Project Based Learning environment when it’s done right does give students a lot of opportunities to learn Biology in a way that interests them or Spanish in a way that interests them,” said Sanner. “I think we are going to have a lot more students feeling like they are a part of school, as supposed to school that’s done to them.”
The No Bells Initiative program will be available to students going into ninth grade next year.