In the Brat Pack classic “The Breakfast Club,” Molly Ringwald’s character Claire Standish complains about how “absurd” it is that she has to be at school on a Saturday.
What was unimaginable for the film’s de facto princess in 1985 is reality for students in Linn and Johnson counties. Saturday school, also known as Saturday detention, is now a disciplinary consequence for seventh- through 12th-graders in the Lisbon Community School District.
It meets from 8 to 11 a.m., as needed, in the school’s study hall room.
Secondary Dean of Students Eric Ries, who is in his first year with the district, has led Saturday school implementation for the Lisbon schools. He brought the idea west from his previous position as assistant principal at Davenport’s Assumption High School, where Ries said he “had success” with the concept.
At the secondary grade levels, Saturday school has replaced in-school suspension, during which students spent the school day in a separate room working on homework instead of following their class schedules.
“It’s a more meaningful consequence than an in-school suspension,” he said. “In the end, we’re having Saturday school not because we want to be punitive but because we want them to make good decisions.”
The two main causes for student in-school suspensions had been behavioral issues and tardiness, Ries said, which resulted in a philosophical disconnect.
“We had students in in-school suspension missing class because they were missing class by being tardy,” he said. “It’s like we were saying it’s OK to miss class because you were tardy.”
A regional trend
The Iowa Department of Education does not track which districts use Saturday school, but Lisbon has now joined the Marion Independent, Iowa City and College Community districts in offering the disciplinary tool.
In Marion, Saturday school runs from 8 to 10 a.m. and is called “restitution.” Administrators can assign either one- or two-hour shifts to Marion High School students.
“It’s been here for a long time,” Pinion said. “It seems to work well.”
Unlike in Lisbon, Marion and College Community administrators use both in-school suspension and Saturday School. In Iowa City, building-level administrators can decide whether or not they would like to offer Saturday School, but it’s mostly limited to the junior highs.
“I am in favor of supporting what the principals need for their buildings,” said Ann Feldmann, assistant superintendent for the Iowa City schools. “What we don’t want to do is create a program and force it upon our buildings. It has to be a grassroots sort of program.”
Sustaining Saturday school
Because Saturday School relies on students or their families getting them to school, that can create issues. That was one hurdle for Southeast Junior High School in Iowa City, which no longer has Saturday school.
Gregg Shoultz, principal at Northwest Junior High School in Coralville, decided to continue the practice that he said was already in place at the building when he became its head administrator a decade ago.
Saturday school meets in the junior high’s library, just like in “The Breakfast Club,” but the principal said that’s where the similarities end.
Sessions begin at 8:30 a.m. and go for either 90 minutes or three hours, depending on the severity of each seventh- or eighth-grade student’s infraction, on most Saturdays during the school year.
Usually a teacher and a counselor supervise, with attendance ranging between 10 and 20 students each week.
Shoultz shared Ries’s sentiment about how an advantage of Saturday School is that it allows students to remain in class – Northwest Junior High School does not have in-school suspension. He noted that having learners fall behind because they were out of class actually penalizes their teachers as well.
For the principal, Saturday detention has evolved into something beyond punishment.
“A lot of times the kids want to get caught up, but something’s blocking them. Saturday School is good at getting that out of the way,” Shoultz said.
“It definitely morphed over the years from just a substitute for a consequence for behavior to an effort to re-teach. When we’re not doing the re-teaching, we’re doing homework support.”
Staff members try to find school-improvement projects, such as cleaning up graffiti or putting up signs, for students to do if they finish their homework before the end of the session.
Transportation has been a complication for some Northwest Junior High students, but Shoultz and his staff have found a creative solution — picking up students themselves.
When parents resist, the alternative is a “lunch restriction,” in which students have to eat their meals outside the cafeteria and away from their friends.
If a Lisbon student doesn’t show up for Saturday School, he or she will have to attend the following session as well as giving up an additional Saturday morning of their free time. That student also will be prohibited from participating in or attending any school activities for seven days.
Ries has monitored both of Lisbon’s sessions of Saturday school, which he said went “great,” and plans to be present at almost all of the rest.
“They’re supervised the entire time,” Ries reported. “It’s definitely not ‘The Breakfast Club.’”
The dean will measure success by comparing the amount and frequency of students earning Saturday school to the same data for in-school suspensions during the 2012-13 school year.
“We’ve really raised our level of expectations for students,” Ries said. “My philosophy is, if it’s clear a detention isn’t working to change that behavior, I need to find something else … .
“I don’t believe in assigning the same consequence over and over and over again. If it doesn’t work, I need to find something else.”