Change ahead: Students consider new school schedule
STAMFORD — Abby Wexler is an ambitious junior at Stamford High School. The 16-year-old takes all honors and Advanced Placement courses with no study halls in between.
Wexler’s course load is already daunting, but she worries it’s about to become even more challenging as Stamford High prepares to transition from six 50-minute classes a day to four 85-minute classes.
“To have four long periods a day, even though it’s only four classes, it’s too much,” Wexler said of the new schedule, which will be adopted by Stamford High for the 2019-20 school year. “I don’t think I’d be able to focus on that much material for that long a time, especially with AP material. It’s intense material with a lot of thinking and I don’t think all that time would be productive.”
Students at Stamford and Westhill high schools currently take seven classes, within a rotating schedule of six-period days. In each seven-day cycle, they have each class six times. The new four-period schedule will alternate every other day so students can take eight total courses.
Discussions of a new schedule began about two years ago. A new law going into effect this year requiring students to earn 25 credits to graduate high school (instead of the 20 Stamford students are currently earning) meant Stamford had to look at changes, according to Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Brian White. Under the new schedule, students will be earning 25 credits with the possibility to earn up to 32 to comply with the new requirements.
Stamford High School will be the first to try the new schedule this fall, followed by Westhill in the 2020-21 school year. The Academy of Information Technology and Engineering has used longer class periods for more than a decade.
The new state credit requirement will begin with the incoming freshmen class in the fall of 2020. But the new schedule will be enacted for all high school grades. The new system allows more opportunities for students, said Associate Superintendent of Intervention and Student Support Services Michael Fernandes.
“We wanted to support student-centered instruction,” Fernandes said of the change. “A longer block lends itself to that naturally.”
Fernandes said the change offers more work-based opportunities for students (like time for internships and job shadowing), supports the district’s scientific research based intervention work and reduces passing time when students are in the hallways.
“What we heard from research is it slows the pace of the school down, which makes the culture and the climate seem much more positive and calm,” Fernandes said.
Teachers will have “significant professional development,” he said, to adjust to planning and teaching for a longer period. According to Megan Staples, an associate professor of math education at the University of Connecticut, training is crucial in transitioning to longer class blocks.
“You’re going to need to think about students: when do they have a lot of agency and thinking? When is the burden on them? There’s time when they’re in a slightly more controlled mode,” Staples said. “Teachers need to mix it up. Elementary schools do this all the time where they do physical breaks during class. Teachers need to think about that as well.”
Activities involving walking around, class time breaks and asking engaging questions can help keep students endure longer classes, she said.
“The time itself doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you do with that time,” she said. “You have just opened up space for a broader range of pedagogical strategies and innovation. … It opens up space for guest speakers, it opens up space to not be rushed through your curriculum.”
Despite the many benefits touted with the change, some students have expressed apprehension — about both the new schedule and the way they discovered it was going into effect. White, along with Westhill Principal Michael Rinaldi and Stamford High Principal Ray Manka, introduced to the plan to the public and the Board of Education for the first time at a meeting last week while simultaneously announcing the change would be happening.
“I first heard about it as a rumor last year and then I started to hear more and more people talking about it,” Wexler said. “In the last month, it was a brought up again like, ‘Oh, this is a real thing happening.’ I was a little surprised. I wish the students’ input would be taken more into consideration,and teachers as well, because it came very abruptly. But I understand it’s the schools decision and I really don’t feel I have a voice in it.”
Others. meanwhile, are trying to make sense of what the change will mean.
“Talking to my friends, they kind of have different opinions on it,” said 16-year-old junior Joe Nathanson. “I think it’ll be good to be able to focus on a topic all at once in one long period. (But) it might get annoying because we’re all used to having 45-minute classes, six periods a day.”
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