New schedule disorients campus

Students+head+to+class+on+a+new+bell+schedule.

Photo By Gabriel Souza

Students head to class on a new bell schedule.

Gabriel Souza, Social Media Manager

With the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, OHS has had to shift gears and implement many new safety measures to protect staff and students. One of those measures, block scheduling, has come with mixed opinions and difficulties for some. Some see the schedule change as an advantage for students, while some harbor unfavorable feelings for the modification of the school day.

Although block scheduling enables students to learn for two hours in each of their classes every other day, the inconsistency and prolonged time without being in that class, cause frustrations among students. A number of students say that the elongated classes leave them feeling unproductive and stressed.

“Block scheduling has made it extremely difficult for me to keep things organized because I keep having to switch back and forth between each days,” said Megan Polliard, sophomore. “I get backlogged with work and it becomes very stressful.”

The two-hour classes can spark boredom in students and might cause them to feel fatigued with the subject material. The lengthy classes leave room for procrastination; with more procrastination, the work begins to pile up.

“There’s always procrastination and everyone’s guilty of it at some point no matter how old or young you are, but when you get to doing these two hours you start to lose your motivation to do stuff because you’re over it,” Polliard said. “At least with the one hour [classes] you were able to focus on [work] for an hour, then get a five minute brief brain break, and then do something totally different, instead of sitting for two hours trying to figure something out.”

Many students feel that some teachers have had difficulties trying to prepare and shift their lesson plans for the two-hour classes. 

“I think it’s kind of a time management thing,” Polliard said. “[Teachers] either underestimate how much time they have and don’t give enough stuff to fill the two-hour block, or there are some teachers who give a ton of stuff to fill past the two-hour block, giving us more work to do at home, when we already spend six hours here a day and a lot of people have extracurriculars of sports, clubs, all that stuff.”

On the other hand, a teacher’s perspective can give a helpful insight on the impact of the schedule change. Some teachers feel that the two-hour class schedule has benefits for students, and it allows them to have more variety in their lesson plans.

“In a 45-minute class I might have three or four different activities, but in a [two-hour] class I try to have more variety than that,” said Robin Naylor, spanish teacher.

Teachers have had to reorganize the way they teach for the new schedule. Some teachers try to maximize students’ engagement by having different types of activities throughout the class period.

“You have to plan differently, you have to really think about what your students are doing the whole hour to make sure you can keep that student engagement up as much as you can,” Naylor said.

Despite the advantages that blocks bring, there is still a downside. Due to the nature of not seeing each student every school day, teachers spend more time reviewing, something they would not have had to do in previous years.

 

“Every other day is tough, and that’s particularly challenging in foreign language classes,” Naylor said. “Instead of practicing spanish every single day, we practice a lot one day, and then naturally students are going to forget a little bit on the off day.”

Among classes most impacted by the long periods of time without instruction, math is one that many students are struggling with.

“I like doing math, I don’t have any problems with it, but if I don’t look at it at a consistent pace I forget stuff super easily,” Polliard said. “If I go to math on a Thursday and then that following Monday I have a test or a quiz, that Sunday night will be a really big struggle because I have to go back and make sure I understand all of these concepts that I haven’t touched on or had a teacher review it since that [previous] Thursday.”

The struggles students are facing are not without reason. Block scheduling was put in place last March, during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, as school leaders looked ahead towards what would work best to help stop the spread of the virus once students and staff returned to campus.

“Last March COVID hit, we were kind of thrown into doing virtual learning over spring break,” said Dr. Lynn Miller, OHS Principal. “As we planned with the district office and all of the high school principals, one of the things we talked about was that we were hoping to get to a point like where we are at now where we could be back in-person and we didn’t have to do virtual, and in doing so one of the biggest things with COVID was the mitigating strategies.”

Having three classes each day instead of six prevents students from spreading COVID-19 during passing periods, which then allows students to be on campus without much risk.

“The whole point was, how do we mitigate students from meeting each other and crossing all the time, so instead of doing it seven times in a day, or I guess six times, let’s do it three times,” Miller said. “It is a mitigating strategy to keep all of us safe.”

OHS’s block schedule differs from the block schedule that many high schools used even prior to the pandemic. Peoria Unified School District high school students have four classes each semester, with eight full class credits each school year. This allows for 90-minute classes instead of two hours.

“90-minute blocks, not two-hour blocks but 90-minute blocks, there’s research out there that says that can be sometimes better than what we do with 55 minutes,” Miller said.

Miller understands that 90-minute blocks can be more beneficial for learning than either the regular 55-minute classes or two-hour blocks, but he says that there are other constraints and limitations that are holding back that schedule. 

“There are schools that do the [four 90-minute classes] block scheduling, and I think that with the proper training for our teachers and putting some systems in place, it could be a good thing,” Miller said. “When you go to a block schedule, Peoria has a block schedule, you get opportunities [and] you get more credits. So we would have to change everything in our system; it’s not as easy as just saying let’s just go to block scheduling.”

The 90-minute blocks are also favorable among teachers who have had experience with them before.

“For me, when I came to Sandra Day and I started teaching 45 minute [classes], that was my adjustment because I felt like I couldn’t fit in everything that I was used to fitting in,” Naylor said. “In my ideal school schedule, we would be on the block, but everyday. I think for most students, having to manage four classes a semester is better than managing six classes a semester, and I think for most teachers managing a smaller number of students, you get to know them better, you can figure out what works for your students and what doesn’t work.”

Despite the pros and cons of either of the block schedules, OHS is likely to return to the regular schedule of previous years.

“I’m confident we are going to stay traditional next year; we’ll go back to where we were because to change it, you’re changing the whole machine,” Miller said.

The probable future return to the regular schedule will likely bring joy and relief to many students who are currently struggling with the two-hour blocks. 

“I think we should go back to a regular schedule, I think a lot of people would benefit more from it, not just academically but personally for emotional [reasons],” Polliard said. “A lot of my friends, personally, have expressed that they don’t like [block scheduling]; there have been a couple people who have said that they have liked the fact that they don’t have to go to each class everyday, but I think as a whole, a majority of people are more against [it].”

Throughout the many struggles and benefits, the pros and the cons, students and staff are still prevailing in the face of COVID-19, and everything that it throws at them. 

“I can’t tell you that [with] block scheduling the instruction is as good as it used to be, but it’s as best as it can be in this scenario,” Miller said. “Our teachers are doing a phenomenal job, I think our kids are doing a phenomenal job.”