By Lisi Burciaga, Staff Writer
Come August 2017, students and staff of the Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD) will find themselves navigating a new and potentially improved block schedule which will change the district’s current everyday routine.
The AUHSD Governing Board finalized the newly-designed block schedule on November 2 and will be implementing the changes in all four of the district’s high schools come the start of the 2017-2018 school year.
Once block is implemented, Monday, also to be known as an “anchor day,” will start at 8:35 A.M., 35 minutes later than the current start time. Shaving 35 minutes off of the day allows for seven 45-minute class periods, five minute passing periods, and a 35 minute lunch.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, class will begin at 8:00 A.M., just as it does currently, and students will attend first period, fifth period, and seventh period, each for an hour and a half. With a five-minute break after third period, and a 30-minute lunch, students will be allotted ten minutes per a passing period, double the current time.
Wednesdays and Fridays will hold a major change for students. On both days, class will begin for students at 8:30 A.M., with an hour long staff collaboration session taking place prior to school.
The current school day starts at 8:00 A.M. and seventh period ends at 3:05 P.M. The day consists of seven, 50 minute periods, and grants students five minute passing periods with a ten minute break after second period, and a 35 minute lunch period.
AUHSD Superintendent John Nickerson claims that the order in which periods occur on certain days may differ from the design. However, he ensures that the general structure will not change.
Creating longer passing periods is an alteration that has proved beneficial for other high schools, and the district hopes that it will positively impact the AUHSD in many ways as well.
“If you’re going to be in a class for an hour to an hour and a half, more students are going to need a break, but probably the more important reason [for longer passing periods], is to eliminate some of the frantic racing from class to class, and give time for students to transition both mentally and physically,” Nickerson said.
According to Nickerson, the new schedule may be tested before going into effect in the 2017-2018 school year, and could even be implemented as the final exams schedule for May of this school year.
“It’s not firm yet, but we are looking at the week of February 8 or sometime around then [to test the new schedule], and it’s really just to kind of inform teachers on the needs and what works, what doesn’t work,” Nickerson said. “Then we’ll try to see if we can use the schedule during the Final Exams time in May.”
The AUHSD plans to conduct a test run so as to ensure that the new schedule is compatible with both staff and students alike, and that the changes go smoothly.
“We think it would be valuable for teachers to experience it a little bit, and as they’re spending all of this time developing new lessons and implementing new strategies, we think it would be good for them to experience the rhythm of a day, the rhythm of a class period, and how kids respond,” Nickerson said.
Testing the new schedule will give the district much needed feedback, as after the Governing Board finalized their official plans for a new schedule, those aware of the changes to come began to form and express their opinions on the subject.
Students’ lack of time to finish up work may be remedied by not only longer periods, but by a brand new addition to the Wednesday and Friday schedule as well.
As Wednesday and Friday progress, students will then attend second period, which will be followed by the most foreign addition to the schedule for students, a period of class entitled “Tutorial,” or “Academy.” The district has chosen to grant students this class time as an opportunity to make up tests, seek extra help from teachers, and see to other school related issues.
“It’s going to have a wide variety of uses ranging from targeted instruction for students who need extra support, to time for students to sit with classmates and collaborate on a project,” Nickerson said. “[It will be] a time for supported homework, a time for independent work, like a study hall, and a time to makeup tests that were missed, or to make up labs that were missed.”
While the primary uses of the Academy period will revolve around classroom studies, the free class time also poses opportunities in the arts and physical education departments.
“There will probably be opportunities for yoga, or other things in the physical education department and there will probably be opportunities for open studio time in the visual or performing arts departments,” Nickerson said. “So there will be a wide variety of things that students can do.”
The Academy period will not only be an opportunity for students to seek out teachers, but also for teachers to seek out students who they feel need extra help. Nickerson explained the concept of “tagging,” which will occur between teachers and students who need extra guidance.
“Some of the students will be ‘tagged,’ so to speak, where the teachers will say ‘you need to come see me’ so that we can get you up to speed on a particular idea or concept in the class,” Nickerson said. “Students who aren’t tagged will have a long menu of choices where they can decide where they want to go for extra support, or independent work, or collaborative work, or whatever they choose.”
Those who have learned about the Academy/Tutorial period believe that it will be one of the most beneficial aspects of block schedule.
“I think [the Academy period] is going to be really helpful because a lot of kids who have after school sports and stuff don’t get home until really late, if they have an away game or a practice that runs late,” Seiler said. “So it is probably going to help kids do their homework, who don’t have a lot of time after school.
The free period will also give seniors time to deal with college applications and seek letters of recommendation.
“The free period is so smart because kids need extra time and I just hope that teachers will always have their doors open on those days for students to come and ask questions,” Junior Cate Combi said.
Now that details of the new schedule have been released, staff members and students of the Acalanes community can begin preparing in anticipation for the new changes to come, which will hopefully benefit the school’s environment in many ways.
Members of the Acalanes community are slowly but surely becoming aware of the details involved in the impending changes on the horizon. Some students anticipate great benefits, while some predict a more complicated outcome, and others are somewhere in between.
Many students who have seen the few schedule are excited for a new change, while others have their concerns. Some find their viewpoints to be somewhere in the middle.
“I have mixed feelings about [block schedule],” Acalanes Junior David Varner said. “ But I am absolutely against the fact that we are going to have much longer classes, which is going to make tests even longer.”
While the uncertainty that comes with trying out an entirely new schedule draws skeptics such as Varner, many students feel that block has the potential to benefit Acalanes, and are willing to give it a shot.
“I think classes like math [will be benefited] because my teacher is always running out of time to teach her lesson, and still have time for us to do the classwork, so block will definitely benefit that,” Freshman Natalie Seiler said.
Nickerson believes that the change will benefit students by reducing stress and increasing learning.
“I think we’ll see better teaching, more engaging classrooms, deeper understanding, and higher levels of learning,” Nickerson said. “I think we’ll also see a de-escalation of our rising stress levels among students, and I think [block schedule] will bring a calm to the campuses.”