What would it look like to build a school schedule that really works for kids? Our innovative new schedule puts the needs of 21st century students at the center of their academic experience.
Stress, Sleep, and Student Health
The expectations on our young people have changed. Many schools strive to offer richer course loads and more elective experiences, and in trying to meet our expectations and feeling the pressure from colleges, students take on heavier loads. All the while, the demands outside of school have grown, too.
With many competing pressures on kids, sleep is the first thing to go. Research shows that on average, high schoolers get about six hours of sleep per night, often less at least one night per week. This should be a wake-up call.
21st Century Learning
Today’s learners are much more likely to be collaborating across networks and long distances, working in diverse teams in a global economy. There is an emerging consensus about what skills kids most need from school: collaboration, creativity, interdisciplinary thinking, synthesis, ethical thinking, empathy, analyzing data, critical thinking, effective communication, and cultural competency. The problem is that our schedules are not designed for that kind of learning.
To build the habit of collaboration, students need the time and space in school to work together on authentic projects.
We need a new model.
A Way Forward
We have crafted more than a new schedule — rather, a new structure of our academic program for the 2018–19 school year, which places the energy and bandwidth of students’ minds at the forefront. We believe this is a major step forward in addressing concerns about student well-being, while at the same time facilitating 21st century learning.
- 65-minute periods three times per week
- Flexible, open, multi-hour blocks
- More open times during the day
- A late start on Thursday mornings
- Moving away from dedicated review/exam periods
Implemented in Middle and Upper School, those long blocks of time allow for the kinds of hands-on, project-based, engaging work that will build the habits our students will need. And with classes meeting three times per week, rather than four or five, that will reduce the number of classes students have to prepare for each night and bring the homework load to something rigorous, but healthy.
A 9:00 AM start will be scheduled for Thursday mornings — a point in the week when students are most tired and need to catch up on sleep or work. With faculty meetings scheduled for Thursday mornings, that also frees up more slots in the afternoon for students and teachers to meet for extra help and to build the relationships so critical to learning.
The most precious time we have is the time teachers spend with kids, but we, like many schools, currently devote roughly two weeks to review and exam time. Research shows that cramming for an exam has next-to-no impact on deep, long-term learning. Our plan is to recapture those class days, while still giving the students the benefit of a culminating experience. There is great value in students having the chance to demonstrate mastery of the core skills and to synthesize what they have learned, which we can do in the normal flow of the school year. And colleges are already moving in the same direction.
We are building in “mini-term” intensive courses, lasting between one and two weeks. During mini-terms, other classes pause, and students explore one topic in depth with a teacher. It is a chance for students and teachers to dive deep into a subject, do some hands-on work, get off campus, engage in place-based learning, and learn in a new way.
We are excited about the opportunity to put all of this into practice as part of one reform effort and harness the synergy. Most importantly, we are putting the needs of the students first.