It's been going on at Mojave High School for several years now.


"We take students from different cliques and groups on campus," said assistant principal Joelle Hood. "We do large group and small group activities designed to get kids to talk to kids they don't normally speak to."


It's called Synergy Day, and it's based on an idea from anthropologist Margaret Mead, Hood said: "It's hard to hate somebody once you know their story."


Mojave is where many Hesperia Unified School District school students who found that the regular high school environment wasn't right for them find themselves, mixed in with the rest of the square pegs.


"It's really created, on our campus, a sense of family, breaking down stereotypes," Hood said. "Attendance has gone up, discipline [issues] has gone down. It's really been a magical experience."


This year, things are going to be different, one way or another.


"This year, we turned in the slip, like we always do, to have the date approved, and we were told by the district office that the board did not want it to happen during the weekday," Hood said. "We were told that, because it takes away academic time, the board wanted to have it on Saturdays."


Synergy Day isn't being singled out for this treatment, according to Jovy Yankaskas, the district's assistant superintendent of educational services, who turned down Mojave's request for a weekday event.


"We're really trying to honor the instructional day," Yankaskas said. "The big push is keep kids in school as much as possible."


"One of the directions given by school board is to focus on test scores: 800 [state API test scores] by 2010 and proficient [on basic skills] by 2014. Those are directions given by the state and federal government," said school board president Robert Kirk, a former Mojave High science teacher. "So we are looking at all kinds of activities that are taking kids out of the classroom. We believe kids should be in the classroom. They can't learn if they aren't in there."


The school board is now trying to emphasize "the sanctity of the classroom," he said.


"We are starting to look and put together a total plan to see what can be done to make the classroom sacred, academics first, because that's what school is all about."


Not everyone on the board agrees, though.


"I think it's going to be more costly, by a long ways, because we're going to have to pay for extra transportation, we're going to have to pay for extra counselors, we're going to have to pay for extra teachers," said board member Helen Rogers. "There's a lot of extra expenses that I can't see [spending] while we're in a budget crisis."


Between the weekend use of a bus and paying for counselors and teachers to work on a Saturday, Hood estimates Synergy Day will cost the HUSD $2,701 instead of the normal $1,175.


If attendance drops off because the event is taking place on a Saturday, it'll be even more costly per student.


"What if 10 people show up when there should be 50 to 75?" Rogers said. "There will be more there on a school day, I believe, than on a Saturday."


And, Hood said, academics have improved because of past Synergy Days.


"In the three years since we've had it, our attendance has gone up, our discipline [issues] have gone down, our API scores have gone up 100 points," she said. "It's not technically academics, but it helps get the kids in an academic frame of mind."


November 8 will be Mojave's first Saturday Synergy Day and will serve as a test case, Yankaskas said.


"If it's successful, wonderful," she said. "If it's not, we'll talk about it."


"It has nothing to do with a [given] activity," Kirk said. "A lot of these activities that are being requested are wonderful in and of themselves. It's their impact: You only have so many minutes of instruction time. Then you start pulling people out of that when you are having trouble meeting standards already?"


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.