During the past few years, M-A’s bell schedule has gone through a variety of changes, from asynchronous Wednesdays during COVID-19 to the switch from 0 to 7th period. Yet with all these changes, many students and faculty are still not content with how the school schedules its periods. Based on an anonymous google form surveying 85 students and 28 teachers, 57.6% are interested in increasing the block days in M-A’s schedule. An anonymous sophomore said, “Our current schedule doesn’t really make sense in my opinion and leaves me exhausted.” English teacher Erika Mungai said, “Before teaching at M-A, I taught at a school with a four-day block schedule. It feels like a more sustainable schedule as a teacher.”
Block day schedules allow for deeper focus because students have fewer classes per day for longer periods of time. Sophomore Lia Lev said, “I feel that on days when we have the regular bell schedule, the period is not long enough to go fully in depth with a discussion or project we are working on, and especially with music and art classes.” While a normal class period is 50 minutes long, teachers have to calm students down from their passing periods, take attendance, and give students time to unpack and pack up at the beginning and end of class. This cuts an already short amount of time even shorter, making lessons seem rushed or condensed. Having longer periods minimizes the time taken away from learning that passing periods and setup time bring. An anonymous senior said, “It takes me a little while to get my brain in English or Physics mode. I spend the first 15-20 minutes getting into the flow of the class, and once I do I only have about 30-35 minutes to do our assignment or classwork.” Rather than moving from class to class and being faced with completely different subjects in six one-hour periods, with more block-days students will have more time to explore the same topic in a variety of ways for a deeper understanding.
In addition, more block days could mean more flex times. Flex, if properly implemented, is the best way to bridge the gap between struggling students and overwhelmed teachers. It can be difficult to teach a class that has students of widely varying academic ability. Having more block days would allow at least four times per week where a student can get personal help from their teacher. In this case, teachers can also schedule flex times to meet with students they feel need extra support. With more flex times throughout the week, scheduling a meeting with a teacher is much less likely to conflict with other premade plans.
It is also important to consider that M-A is a college-preparatory high school; most students never attend all of their classes in one day. If the school truly wants to prepare its students for higher education, it makes more sense to have a schedule that matches more closely to college. Because university students meet with their class less often per week, they have to use time-management and planning skills to do well. Given an extra day to do homework for each class, M-A students will develop the skills to do the same.
Some argue that shorter class periods work better for subjects that require repetition, like language and math. While it is true that students will only go to a given class up to three times a week, they will also receive homework to do outside of class. Because they will usually have their class’ homework due two days later, it’s likely that they will complete some or all of it the following day. This will require students to reinforce their memory recall rather than regurgitate what they learned the same day, which will be valuable for exams.
Absences have a bigger impact on block-days, which can be both a benefit and a drawback. While students will miss more deep learning when they are sick or away, a four-day block schedule may reduce unexcused absences for a single period. Many students skip their first or last period because they think missing one 50-minute class has a smaller impact. They may be less willing to skip if it means missing a much larger chunk of time. This can help resolve the 7th period absence issues we have with our current schedule. Moreover, missing a day of school means only reaching out to half of the teachers in a schedule, and the increase of flex times can allow the student to catch up.
Of the six public high schools in SUHSD, the schedules are pretty inconsistent. Woodside High School has five block days and Sequoia High School has four block days per week. Woodside senior Isabella Wynne said, “I feel like I get more out of my classes and have less on my plate each day. It also helps you get to know your teachers better since you spend good chunks of the day together. The only downside is that sometimes classes drag on, but I love the schedule at Woodside.”
Looking at the overall trends of all public high schools in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, it is clear that the majority of schools have more block days in their weekly schedule compared to M-A. Only 15.3% of these schools have the same schedule as M-A, compared to the 61.1% of schools that have more block days. Of these schools, 85% ranked in the top 50 in the Bay Area have more block days. In addition, many students at these schools enjoy the schedule format. Meena Narayanaswami, a senior at Palo Alto High School (a school with a four-day block schedule), said, “I strongly prefer having a block schedule. On any given day during the week, I’m only thinking about three or four classes worth of homework for the next day.”
Not only are schedules with more than two block-days more common, they’re more effective academically too. Based on the California School Dashboard, which ranks academic performance from a scale of one (very low) to five (very high), public high schools in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties have a notable performance increase correlating to more block days. More importantly, socioeconomically disadvantaged students do not seem to be negatively affected by block-day-heavy schedules.
Considering the many schedules offered at other schools in our area, as well as the improvement that can be made at this school, M-A should switch to a four-day block schedule with Mondays being regular. Having Monday as a regular day gives students the entire weekend to do the homework for all of their classes, as well as provides schedule symmetry. Moreover, students will be able to get the full benefits of block scheduling, creating a healthier, happier, and better-performing student body.