The Times They Are Changin’ : Glen Rock Considers Massive Schedule Reform

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Kelly Streaser reports on the recent discussion of schedule changes at GRHS — is a block schedule possible here?

by Kelly Streaser, Advertising Manager

It was 2:30 sharp in the Media Center and a group consisting of parents, faculty, and even a few students had assembled to discuss pressures that students face in school. How can we alleviate them?

Leading the group was Mr. Arlotta. “Let’s get started,” he said with a smile. And with that, the discussion began.

Mr. Arlotta asked the students present to talk about the pressures they face each day at school. Max Kushnir, a junior at Glen Rock High School (his teachers desribe him as a high-achieving student) responded by saying that he felt in certain subjects, such as math and science, one needs to practice to do well. Homework provides that practice. But in the humanities, where there is no one correct answer, it is different. He also feels that sometimes there is a lot of pressure from different classes all at once. He might have multiple tests or assignments due in the same week. And then, sometimes, there is nothing. This is pretty typical for high school students these days.

A question was then posed: Is it in a student’s personality to do well, or does it come from somewhere else? Junior student, Steven King, responded by stating that he believes there is more pressure in the non-honors or AP classes that he takes. He feels that the AP and honors classes that he takes are subjects that he enjoys, so he does well in them. The other classes may be subjects that he is not as confident in, so there is more pressure to get better grades. He feels that pressure can sometimes discourage students from taking certain classes and can impact their performance in school overall.

Parents begin to voice their concerns for their children. Some agreed that they get too much homework and their grades are slipping, even as early as seventh grade. The conversation turned in the direction of the amount of homework. Mr. Arlotta expressed his belief that contemporary students have a lot of scheduled time, and a high achieving student who is involved in extracurricular activities might typically get two to three hours of homework each night, resulting in very little time to spend with their family and friends. He purports that it is necessary to find a happy balance.

As the conversation continues, it is stated that the reason students receive so much homework is because a lot of times they are just given busy work, and it can amount to too much and an ineffective use of time. The group agreed that by reducing homework and busy work, it will improve the overall quality of the work that gets done.

It is then brought up that often students will cheat on homework assignments because they are overwhelmed, and they feel they have to do anything to get by in school. Perhaps by lowering the amount of work we can also lower the amount of students who cheat on assignments. Also, the meaningfulness of work can help. If a student feels that the work they are doing is more than just busy work, they will be more likely to do it and feel less overwhelmed.

In response, some of the teachers began to voice their opinions on homework and stress. They said that, sometimes, it’s necessary to give students a load of work that they have to do on their own. And a single teacher doesn’t know what homework students receive from their other classes, so this can sometimes lead to students being overloaded.

In the words of Mr Arlotta, we need to find the happy balance.

One way to find this balance may be a change how our school’s schedule operates. Mr. Arlotta informed the group that our school is currently under a two-year study to look at our schedule, and see what changes, if any, would be helpful and realistic.

One new way of arranging the schedule would be to have six classes each day. Students would have three in the morning, a lunch break, and then three in the afternoon. Each class would be longer than 45 minutes, and students wouldn’t meet for each class every day. Since the schedule would rotate around, you wouldn’t have the same classes at the same times. This is good because if students are not a morning person, they don’t always have the same class in the morning — they can experience it at different times of the day.

Additionally, since not all classes meet every day, students wouldn’t have to do homework from each class every night. They could decide what work is a priority and what could wait until the next day. Another benefit is that the longer period gives teachers and students a chance to go more in-depth into the lesson. The study mentioned above looks at schools that currently have this type of scheduling, and inquires into how students and staff feel about it. People at the meeting who know someone who has this schedule comment that they really enjoy it.

So the question raised is why not make the change now?

The answer is not simple. The school wants to be very thorough before making any major changes. Also, this schedule could cause logistical problems since we share a building with the middle school. If we made a change in our schedule, then it would either interfere with their daily routine — or, theirs would have to change as well. It is certainly harder to convince two separate faculties to make this type of major change. Some teachers are wary about this type of change.

Longer periods would mean that teachers have to change their curriculum to fit the new class structure. This kind of change should, perhaps, be slowly implemented to allow time for adjustment.

With this kind of schedule there would be on common lunch period. At this point, the cafeteria is not able to accommodate every student in the middle school and high school at one time. So possibly, students would have to eat elsewhere. It would be easier if the high school were separate from the middle school, but these are important considerations. Having this schedule without wasting four periods on lunch could also make for a shorter school day, which is something that everyone can agree would be nice.

As the meeting comes to a close, Mr. Arlotta told the group that he can answer any questions they have, and he thinks it would be good to have a follow up meeting in about a month.

It is great to see that our school cares enough about these issues to discuss them and try to find solutions. Some necessary changes may one day be happening at our school, but the school is going to take time to make sure they will be beneficial for all. As a student, I was pleased to hear that our parents and faculty recognized this problem and were willing to look for a solution.