The days of waking up before the sun are over. Starting with the 2018-19 school year, MVHS will follow a new bell schedule: there will be three tutorials per week and later start times, with first period starting at 8:00 a.m. at the earliest.
According to Principal April Scott, the district’s wellness task force, which began two years ago, led the proposal after discussing strategies to manage stress amongst students. The wellness task force is comprised of representatives from all five FUHSD schools, the district office and community members. The task force also discussed the interventions they could provide for students within the school day, such as an increased number of tutorials.
“There have been big pushes over the last number of years about […] how we can support students while they’re here versus saying ‘go home and deal with it’ so that conversation kind of got picked up,” Scott said.
The schedule is also designed to help teachers, giving them more teacher collaboration time and, in turn, building more coherence among the teachers of a certain section. Biology teacher Lora Lerner believes that with the extra tutorial and collaboration time, she will have more opportunities to work directly with both her students and her fellow teachers.
“More collaboration time for teachers [...] correlates very highly with students doing well, if teachers have time to work together,” Lerner said.
While Lerner looks forward to using the extra time for a few more minutes of sleep, English teacher Hannah Gould hopes to continue to arrive at school at the same time as she does now in order to finish some work and prepare for the day, rather than leaving it all for after school. She also hopes that the extra time in the morning will help with student participation.
“First period is usually kind of quiet and sleepy so I’m hoping that that will change a little bit, so I’m looking forward to the late start piece,” Gould said.
On the other hand, math teacher Joe Kim points out that the later start may be beneficial in some ways, but it may not be a solution to the problem of student stress and lack of sleep.
“It’s like if you give them a later time then the students generally are probably gonna stay up later to try to finish their work no matter what,” Kim said.“Because they get home a little bit later, right?”
Despite this, he feels that the results can not possibly be worse than the current 7:35 a.m. start time, which he believes is too early for teenagers to be focused and attentive in class. But both Kim and Scott recognize that the later start times and the subsequent later end times may negatively affect many teachers. By shifting the school day later, teachers who live farther away will face heavy traffic, and the MVHS start times would begin to overlap even more with those of Kennedy MS and Lincoln Elementary School.
“It’s just gonna be a challenge so I’ve already been in communication with those principals to say ‘let’s see what we can do,’” Scott said.
MVHS’ sports teams and student athletes will also be affected by the later start times. Athletes may have to miss both sixth and seventh period on game days, rather than just missing seventh. Although Scott has been working with the athletic leagues in order to potentially shift the start times, that shift will not happen for the 2018-19 school year.
“I think in an ideal world, the late start is actually really really good, I like that, but then the reality of just where we live presents challenges,” Scott said.
Another change that will come with the new schedule is the addition of another tutorial period, which both Lerner and Gould anticipate with excitement.
Gould plans to use the extra time to provide more help for her students, especially those in Honors American Literature, by collaborating with other teachers. Kim, on the other hand, doesn’t believe that the extra tutorial will affect him, as not many students approach him during tutorial in the first place, but he expresses his sympathy towards teachers with busier rooms during tutorial. According to Lerner, a movement to include schedule changes such as later start times, increased collaboration and more tutorials in order to improve teaching and learning has been building in the community and the nation for a few years.
“You’re actually taxing them three times in terms of having to interact with that level of individual [attention],” Kim said.
According to Scott, the administration and teachers played around with having a more structured tutorial, as some schools have assigned places for every student to be during tutorials. While they don’t want to start an assigned tutorial system, the staff has been coming up with ideas to ensure that students are using the tutorial time wisely and effectively, such as having a targeted tutorial once or twice a month that would be a time for mini lessons, to distribute paperwork or to have students complete surveys.
“I think this school is very committed to leaving it open,” Scott said. “Students can go where they need to be. MVHS kids really do honor that time, and even if it’s just sitting on a bench and reading a book, if that’s what they need to do, that’s a good thing. I think our biggest question is we’ve got this gift of this wonderful time to be able to support students, how do we do that thoughtfully?”
Lerner believes that the time is going to be used positively, although she is sure they are going to encounter some problems that have been overlooked.
“It’ll just give us more options – we could choose to make things different than they are now, or we could choose not to,” Lerner said. “But it’s going to continue to push us to that conversation of how to be better, what can we do to make the school climate better, what can we do to make our lives better, yours and ours.”
This change did not happen overnight. It was a long time coming, according to principal April Scott.
There had always been casual talk about aligning the five schedules in the district. About two years ago, the district’s wellness task force started discussing ways to mitigate student stress, and the alignment conversation came to the forefront. While Scott said that the administration realized that it would be difficult to completely control all student stress, the task force brought attention to the things that they could change within the workings of the school day.
“There were all these studies that had come out from psychology reviews, medical reviews and so on about sleep,” Scott said. “There came the push, so we said “Okay, can we control stress? No, but we might be able to come up with things to manage it.”
The initiative caught on when discussion flourished regarding interventions for students during the school day. This meant using time embedded into the school day, such as tutorials, for students to seek help on campus instead of having them feel stuck trying to figure it out on their own after school. As they started to look at creating a new schedule, those involved also began to take into account how valuable collaboration time is for teachers to make sure they are teaching the same objectives in their classes.
“[This change on the whole is based on a lot of factors], it’s sleep, more support for students, collaboration time for teachers, aligning five schools,” Scott said. “[Initially the district formed] this big committee and everybody started getting some input so that’s where it came from.”
And it didn’t stop there. When creating the schedules to propose to teachers, the district consulted with members of the classified staff. Scott referenced how those creating the schedule talked with cafeteria staff, for example, to see what a later start time would look like in terms of changes to lunch preparation time and more. Then, with input from admin and the Wellness Task Force, two schedules were created, one with a four-block base and one with a two-block base.
From here, it was up to the teachers at each school site to decide on which schedule they wanted. Based on their contracts with the teacher’s union, they were given the sole vote on the schedules. Some teachers chose to vote based on what their students decided, feeling that there was a lack of student input, but others chose to vote for what would work best for their class given their observations.
After a close vote, MVHS decided on a two-block schedule for next year. But not all teachers were happy with this choice, as the vote was almost a tie. According to Lerner, to some degree, that’s just how it’s going to be.
“There’s never going to be a schedule that everybody likes,” Lerner said. “That’s the reality. And the overall thing that I remind myself, because its hard when people complain, [is that] I know coming from my end that we’re trying to solve as many problems as possible, we’re not trying to do some bad thing. Inherently, change is hard.”