Rethinking the traditional school day, 7 hour days no more?
With the educational interventions created through 1:1 technology, W-hour, zero hour, and personalized learning cohorts, the next logical step would seem to be considering changes to the 7-hour day. Although numerous changes have been made, the essential structure has remained unchanged for decades. Principal Erin Kohl recognizes that the schedule is more in tune with a previous generation.
“As far as the seven hour day, it is definitely a traditional schedule and I think, for a lot of our classes, it works very well,” she said.
There are alternatives to the current schedule that other schools have looked into and developed. Administrators and faculty have investigated these options in the past, according to Kohl.
“One of the things that was talked about before I got here, between the two high schools, was a block schedule,” she said. “There are a lot of schools using that, and they have found that it is very effective.”
Changes, however, were not implemented due to budgeting.
“There was a team from both high schools that looked at that, and they found that it would end up being a lot more expensive because it would require a lot more teacher FTE [full time- employees] and the district wasn’t able to because it would have required a significant budget increase in order to move to block scheduling,” Kohl said. “It really has not been brought up since.”
Junior Dakota Christensen also feels that the current schedule is doing fine the way it is.
“I don’t mind our current schedule,” she said. “I’ve heard there are other alternatives to what we have, but the seven hour schedule is all we know.”
English teacher Brett Hartman gained experience with block scheduling from his time attending Neenah High School.
“We had three semesters, five classes a day that were 70 minutes each, except one was longer because it had the lunches thrown in there,” he said. “I liked it as a student because it cut down the amount of work that I had to do for each class, but it also allowed me more time to get everything done.”
Hartman feels that trimesters would be very beneficial for students as they would be able to benefit from this system.
“Instead of doing a whole semester back to back, we would do trimesters which would count as one full year. So, I could have one trimester completely without math if I didn’t like math for example.”
Along with changing the hours within the school day, there are also possible advantages to tweaking the yearly calendar, according to Kohl.
“One of the things that the calendar committee is looking at is if we added a few more minutes, would we need to make up all of the snow days,” she said. “We always built in some snow days into the school calendar. Every time we have a snow day we have to make it up, but if we add a few minutes every day to make that up we could maybe not have to tack on snow days to the end of the year.”
It is not as easy as many believe to tack on a few more minutes on each day, considering there are many policies that the district must follow.
“At the high school level, it comes down to the minute as far as what DPI requires, so the day that the juniors come for the ACT we can’t count those minutes against our school days because we need everyone to be here in order for that day to count” she said.
Christensen feels that the effort should be put in for this to happen.
“If adding 10 minutes on made the school year shorter, I think it would be great,” she said. “We would get the minutes we needed and then the break that we also need.”
Hartman believes there may even be a better way of adding those 10 minutes.
“I would be more in favor of beginning school earlier. Still ending at the same time, just moving everything up 10 minutes, or possibly ending earlier would be fine,” he said. “Our summer break is already so long, so if you end it earlier you are just giving more chances for people to forget stuff.”
Education defines itself by change, and the foundation of education resides in time spent in the classroom. While there are no current conversations regarding possible alterations, change is possible in the years to come.
“I think the seven hours work well; there are some days when I feel that 47 minutes is enough to get through everything and there are some days when what I need to get through I now have to stretch into a few days,” Hartman said. “Those days, it would be more beneficial to have more time.”
Upon learning the basic advantages of block scheduling, Christensen feels that it might be something interesting to try that could help students be more efficient with their time. Instead of pushing through seven subjects at once, students would be able to go deeper and more reflectively into three or four per semester.
“I think it would be cool to have, because then I would be able to focus on only a few classes at a time and really take in the information,” she said, “in comparison to just trying to learn a bunch of information in an hour and moving on to the next subject.”