School News - Harrison Brown

An Inside look at the New Schedule

The schedule change that came into effect this year means that students at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School have had to adjust a little more than normal through the first few weeks of the 2019-20 school year. But what came behind the decision to make the change, and how has it affected students? 

While the schedule has been nice for many, it has required an adjustment period nonetheless. It has been a transition for Mr. Weis, math department chair at the upper school, as he has to break up his class activities throughout classes rather than do them in one block period. 

“As a teacher, there’s definitely a lot more variety of what’s going on in the classroom and in an individual class,” Mr. Weis said. “So far, I still kind of feel like we’re getting into [the new routine] fully, but there have been a lot of positives - 75-minute classes, prep time, rotating periods - with the new schedule that I have enjoyed.” 

While Mr. Weis likes the schedule, especially having lunch and STAT back-to-back, he said he’s still working to establish his culture around the classroom and is a little concerned that his students don’t remember what they did the class prior compared to previous years. Mr. Weis added that he doesn’t think it’s ideal seeing his students two to three times a week instead of four like he used to as a math teacher but acknowledged “whenever you adopt a new thing, there are tradeoffs.”

During her interview, English teacher Dr. Klein said “I’m definitely having to keep a planner to see on what days and at what times my classes meet, and I have to write down each activity that we’re going to do, whereas before, for a 45-minute period, it was easy to say ‘we’re just going to do this activity.’ You really have three things that you have to get accomplished by the end of the 75-minute period,” she added.

Dr. Klein also said she enjoys the extra passing time and extended lunch: “I appreciate having more than five minutes to get between classes, because as a short person in the hallway, I found it very hard to get through the crowds. But now, I can walk through it [in a normal manner]. Another benefit is the longer lunch period. I also like having faculty meetings in the mornings. When we used to have faculty meetings on Monday afternoons, the coaches couldn’t attend, but now that we have faculty meetings in the morning, everybody can attend, so those are definitely big pluses.”

“I think that everyone has come into this thing with the right spirit,” Dr. Klein commented. “We’re all living and learning and seeing where it goes. So far, I’m so pleasantly surprised and pleased.”

While the new schedule has changed the way teachers plan their classes, it also has the student body in a new routine. Caroline Grace Butler ‘21 described the adjustment period.

 “I think it’s been hard knowing what the next class is and I’ve struggled with going to the right class at the right time, especially with the schedule rotating up instead of down. It’s confusing, but I like that you have more than one day to complete your homework. I think that’s nice except for the fact that teachers are assigning more homework even though they’re not supposed to. I feel [that] it’s good in that sense. Sometimes the class periods feel long, though. … It could be hard to focus,” she said.

While Caroline likes the positives to the new schedule, she did acknowledge that it is a struggle to retain the information she learned from the last time that her class met. Though, having not as many classes before and after lunch is a benefit from her standpoint.

 “I feel like last year, teachers would break up the workload because they knew [that] you were seeing them four times a week so you would get little amounts every day. I feel like [the workload] is piling up with being an athlete and having to balance that is a lot,” Caroline commented regarding whether or not she feels that there has been a change in nightly workload.

Caroline added that she gets more anxious to get ready for sports after school when community time comes. “I think that’s really frustrating because all I want to do is go change and get ready for sports. I don’t really love that,” she said.

Aidan Beckwith ‘20 also thinks that the new schedule is better than the last one for athletes. He discussed his transition to the new schedule, largely echoing Caroline’s comments regarding how it has affected athletes.

“The new schedule definitely feels different compared to the last three years of high school. I think that it helps for sports because I’m not missing the same class every time I have an away game which I think is gonna pay off down the line,” he said.

While he thinks that the workload has improved this year compared to last, Aidan misses having “community time” in the morning rather than the afternoon and says that he still needs to adjust. He’s also not a fan of the fact that he doesn’t get his free period every day but likes getting a break from his classes frequently.

“[I’m] not feeling like I’m completely burned out at the end of each day. Before, when we had six-seven classes a day, I felt like I wasn’t able to retain all of the information being taught to me,” Aidan stated, adding that he feels more alert in class this year.

While the new format of the schedule was implemented at the start of the year, Mr. Mallett told The Voice that this has been something that’s been in the works since before he arrived here just prior to the 2016-17 year.

“In [2017-18], that was the planning and development phase so we hired a consultant, formed a scheduling committee, and in [2017-18], we were in a very deliberate and intensive process to develop guiding principles,” Mr. Mallett said of the process. “At the end of [2018], we finalized our schedule and shared that with the faculty, so then [summer 2018] and [last school year] was for professional development of teachers, of how they were going to use 75-minute periods to deliver their content and build the skills and knowledge of their students. So, it was a research development building phase in [2017-18], a professional development phase [last year], and then a launch [this year]. Our school’s been operating the same [for] 30 years, so this was a process that we didn’t take lightly.”

Mr. Mallett added the scheduling committee talked to and even visited other schools like Stone Ridge and some in the Baltimore area who were running 75-, 85-, and even 95-minute classes that met every other day, to see how this system would work out in live-action, but said that the goal was not to be like other schools. He stated that they were too early in the process of evaluating to see if this year’s schedule was better than last’s and will keep evaluating throughout the year.

He said that the school was willing to accommodate the students’ concerns regarding the new schedule, and cited the example of a split lunch with two separate lunch periods as an idea that was changed. “They said that if you split the lunch, you’re going to divide the student body, space, and time and they won’t be able to do things like affinity groups, clubs, captains lunches, and orientation meetings and just a whole lot of things that happened at lunch. So we listened to the students and we made that change. We no longer had a split lunch. We expanded the lunch [so that it’s] 65 minutes and we hope that’s working well for them,” he explained.

The new schedule change changed the routine a lot for Mr. Marvin, the head of the scheduling office, as he now has to spread the classes out over two-day rotations. In addition, he had to start programming the scheduling software last year instead of starting out over the summer. “There was a lot of rewriting of the program to get that ready so that when I got the information from students signing up for classes, it went into the right place,” he said.

The new schedule posed unique challenges for Mr. Marvin. “It definitely made it harder because if you could imagine, each person has two schedules instead of one master schedule because they’ve got the even days and the odd ones, so it’s a rotation of four classes and four classes. Like trying to balance things for people if they had six periods of classes and two free periods. I tried to make sure there was one on each day instead of two on one day and none on the other,” he explained.

Mr. Marvin said that he is still struggling to balance the schedules for some students. There were some instances that a student with two free periods got them both on the same day to accommodate the other classes that they wanted to take, but he also acknowledged the gains that come with the new schedule

“I think one of the really positive things about it is people have more time in the classroom and less transition time between classes and no one has a day that’s seven periods like we used to do on a Monday,” he said. “Having more transition time is a very healthy choice.”