High schoolers requested more consistent schedules
At the Jan. 20 Somerset Board of Education meeting, a new six-period daily schedule for high school students was approved for next school year, offering students more flexibility and consistency than the current schedule.
Somerset High School Principal Chris Moore said the number one reason for making this change was to give students more flexibility in scheduling than the current plan allows. The decision was not made lightly.
This year on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays, students have a mix of “block” and “skinny” classes. Blocks last 86 minutes and one semester, while “skinnies” last 43 minutes but go the entire year. On Wednesdays and Thursdays students have block courses only. This can be confusing for not only students, but teachers as well, Moore said.
“It’s been difficult to find certain courses for students that fit into the block and skinny schedule,” Moore said.
Some courses are only taught during the block formats, but a student might need that course and only have a “skinny” time slot open.
Another reason the change will go into effect is 90 percent of the district’s virtual class budget for this year has been used in the first term (nine weeks).
“A lot of students have been taking virtual classes because in a way, they’ve been forced to make up for classes that don’t fit in their schedule,” Moore said. “This has been a response to trying to keep the students up to date.”
Moore said after multiple conversations with members of the student council, who in turn surveyed their peers, students dislike the current schedule, in part because 43 minutes doesn’t allow for hands-on activities.
“Many of the courses were becoming strictly lecture-based,” Moore said.
He said he heard from some staff members that the skinny blocks of 43 minutes aren’t enough time to teach a thorough class.
Structure of six-period day
All classes will have 56 minutes per day of instructional time and last for one semester or the entire year. Year-long courses will gain 3,000 minutes of classroom time in one year, Moore said. Semester-long classes will gain about 20 additional instructional hours.
The new schedule will allow students to concentrate on six subjects daily and delve deeper into the curriculum. It also allows for more hands-on activities and more varied instruction during class, Moore said.
Students will have three classes in the morning, followed by a lunch/homeroom combined time of one hour, followed by three classes in the afternoon.
The new schedule also allows for five minutes passing time between classes. Currently there are only two to three minutes, Moore said. Five minutes will give students more time to use the restroom, go to their lockers and give staff time to set up classes. The intent is to reduce the amount of time a student would need to leave class to do these things.
A “zero hour” will also be added to the schedule. Zero hour classes will meet from 7 to 7:55 a.m. before the actual school day begins at 8:05 a.m.
Zero hour class times are optional for students. They allow students to increase their flexibility and elective options during the traditional school day, Moore said. Those attending zero hour classes (mostly juniors and seniors) must provide their own transportation to school.
According to district administrator Randy Rosburg, another option that allows schedule flexibility for students is allowing students who participate in sports to replace a half-credit of physical education with a half-credit of English, math, science or social studies.
It was important to students and staff to keep a designated homeroom time each day. This allows students to receive academic support through the Response to Intervention program. Clubs can also meet during homeroom.
Staff and student reaction
Moore said 19 staff (56 percent) voted for the six-period day; 16 (46 percent) voted for the seven-period option.
“There is no perfect schedule,” Moore said. “We needed to focus on one that meets our needs. The students were pretty much ready for any change. The staff was split between the six- and seven-period days. But this wasn’t working under the current structure for what they were looking for.”
The reason some leaned toward the seven-period day is that it allows more time for electives. That’s where the zero hour option comes in to help make that up, Moore said.
High school counselor Katie Layman supports the change to a six-period day.
“The new schedule is one that I feel will benefit students greatly in the realms of college and career readiness,” Layman said. “Decreasing the number of class periods during the school day allows teachers to have more contact with students, provides students with a greater amount of work time and allows students a greater opportunity to manage their time wisely.”
English teacher Cory Lindenberg said the new schedule will provide students and teachers more quality time for learning.
“By the time I take attendance, have the students access a computer if we are using tech that day, collect the previous day’s homework and state the learning objectives for the day, seven minutes or so have past, leaving about 35 to deliver actual instruction to the students,” Lindenberg said of the current schedule. “The six-period day has more instructional time per class period, allowing students to wade deeper into the pool of knowledge that we are playing in that day, and it allows me to see my class everyday. Classes right now only meet four days a week -- three 43-minute sessions and one 1.5 hour class -- and at the younger levels, I think consistency is important; it just allows teachers to move more methodically through the curriculum as opposed to having to review Wednesday's lesson on Friday because we didn't meet on Thursday. This combination of consistency of the schedule and more instructional time are the primary benefits for both students and teachers.”
Moore said they considered many different schedule formats. He feels this one was the best fit.
“I’ve been living in this community for eight years and I’ve heard from many that eight periods is too much to concentrate on in one day,” Moore said. “Hopefully we will continue to see improvement in learning and achievement.”