District Tests Finalized Block Schedule For Next Year

By Lisi Burciaga, Staff Writer

// Seven classes a day, 8:00 a.m. sharp start times, and 50 minute classes used to be the unchanging everyday routine for an Acalanes student, but the typical schedule will soon be a distant memory with the start of 2017-2018 school year.

   The Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD) finalized the design for the new block schedule on November 2, 2016, and tested it out at all four of its high schools – Acalanes, Campolindo, Las Lomas, and Miramonte-during the week of February 6.

   The trial run gave district officials the chance to observe the schedule in action while simultaneously giving staff and students the opportunity to experience what everday class will be like at the start of the 2017-2018 school year and identify the pros and cons to address before running it next year.

    “We think it would be valuable for teachers to experience [block schedule] a little bit,” AUHSD Superintendent John Nickerson said.

   Nickerson feels that it is vital that staff members test the new schedule, as it gives them insight on how they’ll need to adjust to the changes.

   “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, rather than just the first day of school coming in August, and just rolling it out,” Nickerson said.

   Monday started off very similar to a typical Wednesday schedule, with school starting at 8:35 a.m., and all seven periods meeting for 45 minutes. The biggest change was the placement of break and lunch, which now follow third and fifth period rather than second and fourth.

   Tuesday and Thursday started at 8:00 a.m. with first, second, third, and sixth period meeting for an hour and a half. Passing periods doubled from five to ten minutes, which proved to be one of the most puzzling changes for students and staff.

   According to Nickerson, increasing passing period time will be greatly beneficial, giving students and teachers more opportunities to meet, lessening the race to and from classes, and providing more break time overall.

   “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 or need to use the restroom. Probably the more important part is to eliminate some of the frantic race from class to class,” Nickerson said.              

   As a consequence of longer passing periods, brunch has been shortened to five minutes on block days, which some students see as inconvenient.

   “I dislike the short five-minute break. Yes, there is a ten-minute passing period, but if somebody is getting food and the bell rings, and this person is still in line and doesn’t have access to time, they could lose track and potentially be late to class,” freshman Chloe Parmelee said.

   Many students agree with Parmelee and have expressed complaints regarding the unusual brunch and passing periods.

   “Today a student told me that they were frustrated with the brunch bell ringing at five minutes, because there’s a ten-minute passing,” Acalanes Principal Travis Bell said. “They feel like brunch had just gotten started and then the bell rang.”

   While the five-minutes for break proved unpopular among students, district officials have research to defend their motives for changing up the passing periods.

   “There are some schools not too far away, like Piedmont High School, who went to ten-minute [passing periods] on days with longer instructional block, and they liked it so much that they actually did that with their anchor day where all seven classes meet because they thought it was so valuable,” Nickerson said. 

    Wednesday and Friday, class began at 8:35 a.m. and started with fourth period. Following that came the most foreign addition to the new schedule: the Academy period which lasted for 55 minutes. Students were able to spend the period in informational meetings for potential future classes. Otherwise, they spent the time in their fourth period classrooms on Wednesday and their fifth period classrooms on Friday as a free study period.

   “The Academy period, was helpful because it was like a study hall where you could work on individual homework, so it was basically a free period,” Parmelee said.

   However, the trial run for the Academy period did not exactly mirror the way it would operate next year, as students will have more options.

   “The Academy period, once used correctly and not just as a study hall period, is a great idea,” Acalanes chemistry teacher Thomas McNamara said. “Students can make up exams, labs, get extra help from peers and teachers, review lessons, catch-up, practice homework with the teacher present, or just ‘chill’ and rest their brains.”

   The Academy period received a great deal of positive feedback, according to Acalanes administrators. 

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(Cartoon by Eldon Brown)

“We plan on really utilizing that time strategically next year so that there are sessions being offered for review and test makeup, intervention if you’re not understanding a concept, as well as enrichment opportunities like Mindfulness Club or working in the garden or yoga, depending on where the student interest is,” Bell said.

   The district is even considering creating an app which will show students and staff which educational and enrichment activities are available during the Academy period.

   One of the most well-received changes that came along with the new schedule was the early release time on Wednesday and Friday for kids without a seventh period. Because lunch is before seventh period and starts at 12:55 p.m., students with six classes can leave at that time.

   “I think it relieves a lot of stress when you have an additional two hours to do homework [if you only have six classes],” junior Hannah Snyder said.

   However, some students with six classes dislike the lack of balance in their weekly schedule.

   “One day we had a bunch of stuff, and the next I had barely anything, so I didn’t really like that imbalance,” junior Cole MaCarewich said.

   MaCarewich wasn’t the only student who felt that way, as administrators received similar complaints.

   “There are students that are only taking six periods, and they didn’t like that on one day they had four periods, and then on one day they only had two,” Bell said. “So, we might need to relook and see if we need to make it so that if you’re taking six periods, you have three a day.”

    Despite the various perks of the new schedule, changes in release times brought on a traffic nightmare for Acalanes students. On Tuesday and Thursday, all classes were released at 3:05 p.m., meaning that every single Acalanes student attempted to exit the school parking lot during the same time frame.

   Those with five or six periods typically leave early, relieving some of the traffic stress, so a school-wide release time proved to be a flaw in the new schedule.

   “Feedback has come in about maybe having someone out there monitoring traffic on the days that everyone gets out at 3:05 p.m.,” Bell said.

   The trial run gave both students and teachers the opportunity to see how certain subjects would be affected by the changes to come.

   AUHSD Associate Superintendent Aida Glimme said she saw positive feedback from teachers while visiting the four district schools during the trial week. 

   “There were differences between different classes, so you would hear from science teachers and Career Tech Ed. that it was wonderful that they could spend so much time on things,” Glimme said. “Some other teachers had a little more adjustment to do but that was sort of the purpose of this week- to see what needs to be adjusted.”

    Some teachers in the science department did, in fact, see potential benefits for their class.

   “For science, we hope to be able to introduce a topic and get students to practice that concept, via a lab, practice or article for each block period,” McNamara said. “This gets students thinking about and doing science. I’m excited for the opportunities [block] will bring.” 

   English classes benefited from block schedule as well, as it provided time for more in-depth learning.

   “ I felt  like I connecting my lessons better because I was thinking about it for an hour and a half,” English teacher Shimyum Cotter said. “I also feel like I can go more in depth with the students during the lessons and they have more of a chance to make the learning their own during that time rather than trying to speed through lessons every day.”

   However, faculty members  such as math teacher Janice Lund, found the larger periods to be challenging.

   “I felt 90 minutes was too long for some classes that were not highly motivated. I think for  the teachers who have higher level-math, the longer classes are nice,” Lund said. “However,  if you teach the lower levels or have behavior issue classes, it’s hard to come up with a lot of activities to break up the lesson.”-

      Overall, block week proved to a success, as it allowed students and staff to identify what they liked and disliked about the changes, thus giving district officials the opportunity to properly address them in time for next year.

   “I think the mock block week [was] really successful, in that it is absolutely giving us the information that we wanted to inform our professional development and see what tweaks we need to make before we implement [block] next year,” Bell said.

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