Jack VonHandorf and Amber Grayson, principal and assistant principal, respectively, of Notre Dame Academy, knew it was time for a change at the all-girls Catholic high school in Park Hills. In fact, they had discussed adding a flexible time period into the school day—time that would give students opportunities for enrichment, support, collaboration and personal learning—for the last seven years.

According to VonHandorf, when a student in the past was struggling with a class, they could only meet with a teacher before or after school. “Which is great but, as you probably well know, these kids have very busy schedules and for them to be able to have access to a teacher before or after school is not always easy,” he says.

VonHandorf and Grayson’s solution was Panda Prime Time, a flexible 30-minute time period on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting at 12:50 p.m. in which students could make up a test, work on a group project, talk to a counselor, work on homework, spend time on academic enrichment or meet with a teacher.

“We’re not doing any clubs, we’re not doing anything else other than the teachers are available to be able to help the students with what is going on in those classes,” adds VonHandorf.

While 30 minutes may not seem like much time, Notre Dame Academy has seen Panda Prime Time have a huge impact on its students.

“The students like it so much and it’s been so successful that we will probably replace one, if not two of the homeroom times with it next year, says Jane Kleier, director of marketing and communications for the school. “Students are just finding that they’re getting so much work accomplished and I think it’s kind of giving them that breakthrough to do what they need to do and then move on and be successful the rest of the day.”

In addition to giving students time to work on their studies, Grayson says that Panda Prime Time allows students to learn skills that will help them in college.

“I think, for some of our students, the biggest benefit for them is just learning how to self-regulate—managing their time and prioritizing their work or what they need to get done,” she says.

VonHandorf also sees the time as beneficial for the students’ well-being.

“The other thing that was in the forefront of our minds, too, was we thought of [this as a] little bit of pressure release for the students,” he says. While students are encouraged to work on any academic projects, they can also go to the chapel or enjoy some time outside. The school is considering adding ways for students to practice mindfulness, meditation or yoga during this time as well.

Implemented only this year, Notre Dame Academy is already considering expanding it to another day or two.

“Some of the feedback that I get from students is that they want it every day. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a possibility for us, but they would like to see us increase from two days per week,” says Grayson.

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