Lian Wang ’21 News Reporter
For the three weeks between Long Winter Weekend and Spring Break, the Mercersburg community will be testing a new class schedule. Instead of five or six classes of roughly an hour, each school day will be comprised of two eighty-minute classes in the morning and one or two hour long classes in the afternoon. Help periods and breaks between classes have also been dispersed throughout the day and extended. These changes in the schedule arose primarily from the proposals of the two time taskforce groups that met last year.
The time task forces hoped to eliminate unnecessary add-ons in the schedule and utilize time more productively, without taking away valuable traditions, such as family-style meals and community gatherings. Shannon Fan ’20 identified the most important issue as “the need to balance the efficient use of time—which effectively means packing every bit of the schedule—with students’ needs for personal recuperation, mental health and other interpersonal growth.” She joined the task force because “like many students, I felt a perpetual need for more time to complete homework, get rested, and do things more constructive to me personally.”
Students note that while help periods and weekends are often consumed by other activities, there are simultaneously required commitments during the week that do not effectively utilize their time, such as class meetings that can be condensed into one email. Among the proposals from the task forces were suggestions to build in designated free blocks for clubs to meet and students to relax, extend help periods to more effectively utilize time with teachers, and limit the time each PGA could meet beyond the 4-6 afternoon periods. Upon further conversation, these proposals have factored into the schedule in place for the next few weeks.
There have been concerns about whether students will be able to focus for the longer class times and retain more information with less frequent meetings. Dean of Curricular Innovation John David Bennett worked closely with the administration to address concerns and develop the new schedule. He said, “It’s just about [the teacher’s] responsibility to make shifts often and segment the class. Research suggests that the length of the class isn’t really the issue… and there really isn’t much research to support the idea that it is better for students to meet every day for shorter periods.” Additionally, he is “fairly certain that whatever we do transition to isn’t going to look precisely like what it will in February. And [he hopes] that as we evaluate the schedule’s elements, such as how people feel about the longer classes, and not evaluate it as a whole.”
While students can expect the occasional snafu, many students are also excited about the benefits that will come with the new schedule. Mia Ingram’21 is looking forward to “longer classes that could allow for deeper conversations during the time… and longer sleep-ins and more help periods.” Ryan Bland ’21 says “I am nervous for 80-minute rotations in some classes, overall, I think it will go well… looking ahead to Irving-Marshall week, the new schedule will make it easier for students to get more involved in the week.” Fan is also excited about more free time: “I am excited for the larger chunks of time that I can devote to tasks I’m passionate about, things that give me meaning and make me happy.”
As every member of the Mercersburg community tests the schedule for the first time, it is crucial that we remember that this is an experiment designed to implement ideas, proposed by students and faculty, to improve upon our current use of time. Our constructive and open feedback from these three weeks will directly translate to the structure of the class schedule.