Schedule Changes on the Horizon
The clock strikes 8:05. Doors shut, class begins, and latecomers sprint up the hill, gasping as they wonder for the umpteenth time why they had to be cursed with a first period language. Forty-five minutes later, doors spring open and students stuff binders into backpacks before making their way to the next class. In a period of time shorter than an episode of your favorite TV drama, teachers tackle cosine or the Constitution. Our bell schedule, though fast-paced, has become a rhythm so familiar we can hardly imagine days without it.
The familiar rhythm of the College Prep bell schedule, however, might not feel all that familiar next school year. A committee called the Time Task Force headed by Mr. Tucker is in the midst of a long and careful process at the end of which they will present a new and improved schedule to the student body. Though as of now plans are vague and not yet fully decided, it is the hope of the administration that students will soon move through classes at a pace that better serves the school’s mission and that will add some healthy balance to our hectic lives.
Though this announcement may come as a bit of a surprise to many students, it represents the result of extensive research and discussions by faculty members and administrators alike. Two years ago, a Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accreditation procedure required College Prep to compile a “self-study.” WASC feedback on that study urged the school to take a look at its schedule and examine the ways in which it might be impeding the realization of the mission statement. The current bell schedule, with its seven forty-five minute periods a day, has for the most part dictated the lives of College Prep students since the school opened its doors fifty-five years ago. While schools around us have switched to modified block schedules or other less rigid timetables, College Prep has remained loyal to tradition. It now stands as the only high school in Prep’s peer group with a bell schedule modeled on one proposed in the 1900s by a Carnegie study. In short, our current schedule is a little dated.
College Prep’s current schedule
The WASC comments stimulated Ms. DeVane to ask Mr. Tucker to research scheduling and the various ways schools have changed theirs in recent years. Teaming up with a teacher from the Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, Mr. Tucker spent a semester researching and found that most schools in our area have transitioned to schedules with teaching blocks of different lengths on different days. This modified block style enables different types of assessments, longer in-class projects, field trips, and reduces the number of subjects for which students had to complete homework each night. “If a school has reasons to have a variable schedule that they feel helps their mission, there’s nothing in the research that suggests it’s a bad idea,” explained Mr. Tucker. He determined that a modified block schedule could only be an improvement upon the somewhat limiting seven period model. There seemed to be no downside.
When the possibility of a transition to a new schedule was first proposed to faculty, most had extremely positive reactions. When asked whether they felt like the current schedule “serves our students well,” almost all said it did not. Though a few teachers were more reticent than others to change a schedule in place for over half a century, most were excited about thinking up ways to use time more effectively. When conflicts arose among faculty members with differing opinions or views of the ideal schedule, the mission statement served as a guide. “We have a mission statement that is supported by five philosophy statements, and I think every aspect of the school should be in support of that guiding language,” explained Ms. DeVane. Mr. Tucker agreed, adding that while the school is in many ways doing a great job of sticking to founders Mary Harley Jenks and Ruth Willis’ original vision, the current schedule “might be keeping us from realizing certain aspects of the mission.”
An example of a teacher’s block schedule at Lexington High School source: http://teacherweb.com/MA/LexingtonPublicSchools/
Though she does not sit on the committee in charge of devising the new schedule, Ms. DeVane has headed similar ventures in the past. At the Hawken School in Ohio, Ms. DeVane contributed to a radical change in the school’s schedule and witnessed positive results and reactions. Though she doubts that the final draft of the new schedule will be as radical as the Hawken change, she understands that “if you haven’t changed in 55 years, it could feel radical.” She believes that the changes made will prove “significant” and enable new, exciting, and “pedagogically interesting” ventures. “We’re looking to support student health and balance by reducing the number of transitions made in a day,” she says. “Any kind of teaching and learning privileges certain kinds of learners and punishes other kinds of learners, and so if you can mix it up and create more variety you’re going to hit more learners.” The diverse learning styles of College Prep students will no doubt benefit from a schedule offering lots of variety.
Mr. Tucker is quick to emphasize that no final plans are in place, and that although a schedule change is definitely on the horizon, no one’s quite sure what that new schedule will look like. After all, a schedule is “just an arbitrary container of time,” he says. The task at hand is to come up with a more effective container. The Time Task Force will seek student feedback as it drafts the new schedule, working with the Curriculum Committee to ensure that student representatives have an opportunity to voice their classmates’ concerns and suggestions. Student Council (Stuco) could also play some role in creating a space for students to share their ideas. Ultimately, “faculty have an obligation to students,” Mr. Tucker explains. The Time Task Force, made up of Sharona Barzilay, Lisie Harlow, Betsy Thomas, Mike Lane, Amanda Luckey, John Hines, and, of course, Mr. Tucker, centers discussions around how they can best benefit students. We can be sure that whatever they come up with will have been devised with our well-being in mind.
Unsurprisingly, students have lots of opinions about scheduling. Many love the current, fast-paced transitions and short class periods. “The periods seem to be the perfect length,” said Natalie Horton (‘18). “They’re not too long and they’re not too short.” Caroline Sernett (‘17) agreed, explaining that “in longer class periods I would lose focus,” and Cora Coggshall (‘18) said “classes are a lot more exciting when they’re slightly shorter.” Zoe Dove (‘17) offered a slightly different take, arguing that her perception of time really depends on the subject matter. “I think 45 minute classes are a little too short when I enjoy the class, and 40 minutes too long when I don’t.”
Though most students like the current length of classes, many would appreciate a couple more long projects or field trips that require longer time blocks. “It would be nice if we had a few more longer projects”, said Cora, “because we usually just do homework and then come to class and do classwork, and then do more homework, repeat…” The longer class periods proposed by Mr. Tucker would almost certainly allow teachers to break up monotony with exciting projects and outings.
Another major concern for student was how a potential schedule transition would affect their homework load. “I think my stress levels would increase, because they’d actually give us more homework,” said Caroline. Concerns about a schedule without every class meeting every day meaning more, rather than less, homework seemed to be a recurring theme among the students I talked to. “I don’t know if [teachers] would give you more homework, so it would be like you were doing work every day anyway,” said Natalie. Ronil Synghal (‘18) explained that “College Prep students like to procrastinate a lot so we’ll end up spending large amounts of time doing the large amounts of work the night before it’s due rather than trying to evenly spread it out.” Any schedule change would require a transitional period during which students and faculty adapted their study habits and assignments to fit the new model.
While students expressed concerns about the idea of a new schedule, they weren’t completely opposed to the idea of change. Many see aspects of the current bell schedule that they think could benefit from some revision. Caroline would like to switch to a single assembly per week. Zoe would make the passing period between 6th and 7th periods ten minutes instead of five to give people “a little break.” She also wondered why classes met during 7th anyway, since “no one can concentrate.” Grant Konkel (‘19) would make break shorter and lunch a little longer. Joy McWilliams (‘16) would like to move the start and end of the school day thirty minutes later because more sleep means “better functioning brains.” Overall, it seems that though change can appear a little scary, especially after fifty-five years of the same, sometimes it might be necessary. And it’s not as though College Prep’s long history has been devoid of change. We’ve survived a new campus, several new Heads, a change in the dresscode, a rise in tuition, and a huge increase in the size of the student body. Throughout these changes, subtle or radical, at its core, College Prep has remained the school it has always been: a place to learn and to be excited about learning. A new schedule certainly won’t change that.