In 2000, almost 15 years ago, the school’s administration established our current hybrid block schedule in order to please both the teachers who considered block scheduling superior as well as the teachers who preferred to meet with students on a daily basis.
“When we made the change about 12 years ago, the reason we ended up with the combination schedule is that people felt like that was the best compromise,” Assistant Principal Galen Rosenberg said. “Typically, world language and math teachers feel that meeting everyday is more important…English and science teachers and art teachers and performance teachers tend to like longer block periods.”
Although the topic hasn’t been revisited since, changes in student culture over the past decade merit a re-evaluation of academic scheduling. Many students are taking various AP and honors classes as well as a compendium of extracurricular activities and sports.
“I feel like the schedule that was put back then might not necessarily be aligned with the way the school culture is now with academics,” senior Alex Kuo said. “What I’ve noticed in my time at [the school] is that the academic climate has become progressively more competitive for each new grade level that enters.”
In the cyclical pattern of standard school weeks, block days on Wednesday and Thursday serve as a reprieve from facing every single class the next day. Under our current schedule, students may occasionally be fatigued from a feeling of being overwhelmed. It is in our best interest to follow the lead of other local high schools such as St. Francis High School, Palo Alto High School and Homestead High School and adjust the school’s bell schedule to include at least two more block days, on Tuesday and Friday, such that the schedule would have one “normal” day and four block days.
Homework problems can also play a large role in the fatigue that weighs down many high school students. At home, when students are forced to face five to six periods’ worth of homework, they tend to work to finish, not to learn. With block schedules in place, students will be able to go home and focus on a select few subjects without the pressure of seven periods’ worth of homework bogging them down. A block-oriented schedule not only allows students to budget homework time evenly across all of their classes but also makes it easier for students to be mentally prepared for their classes.
“With the traditional system, we ask kids to change gears for about 5, 6, 7 or 8 times a day, and then do it again that evening with homework,” PALY Assistant Principal Victoria Kim said. “We also expect students to show mastery in the skills in the 5, 6, 7 or 8 different subjects they are learning each day. With block scheduling, kids only have to switch gears 3-4 times a day, and each class period allows time for the student brain to focus on the subject at hand.”
Some teachers also believe that accommodating for changes in scheduling would not have a severe impact on changing curriculum as one might think. It would only require slight adjustments to ensure that the amount taught is proportional to the amount of time required for students to learn the material in the current scheduling framework.
“I would prefer block schedule every day [for a] couple of reasons. One, for you, it’s only three subjects a day instead of six,” math teacher Carol Evans said. “For me, it doesn’t matter.”
The benefits of block schedules aren’t restricted to the diminished strain on students’ spirit. According to a study done by the Doctoral Candidate University of Massachusetts/Lowell, a state mandated assessment on the performance of Massachusetts 10th graders found that the average high school passing test rates increased by 15 percent from 74 percent to 89 percent in just two years, from 1999-2001, after changing the school schedule from a seven period day to block schedule. Nine years later in the spring of 2008, students who took the test yielded passing rates of 100 percent.
However, some departments claim that their subject is mastered better through frequent exposure. In the case of foreign language, block scheduling could potentially hinder education by disrupting the immersion one might experience in a daily class.
“Mastery of a language requires daily practice,” Latin teacher Krista Greksouk said. “If you want to learn to play guitar or be good at basketball, you have to practice everyday. A little bit everyday is really important.”
Under our current schedule, any student that is taking a language receives four periods of class every week. An expanded block schedule, however, reduces that number to 3 periods a week. For some of St. Francis’ students, the exposure doesn’t feel marginalized though.
It is important to note, regardless of both sides, that modifications need to be made.
“I think that there’s upsides at least intuitively,” Assistant Principal Galen Rosenberg said. “to the idea of have classes in the morning or the afternoon…It’s obviously more logistically complicated to make work, in terms of lab setups and just keeping track of life. But it’s worth talking about.”