by Kaleigh Steigman
Monticello High School will be following an alternating-block schedule next year, and members of the school community are reacting to this change in various ways.
Administration has decided to transition the school away from the current semester and year-long hybrid schedule towards alternating block or year-long schedule, hoping to give students a longer time to process knowledge, and to form relationships with their teachers. Despite their optimistic intent, many are reluctant to let go of the current system.
“I have seen this school go through several schedule switches, and the pattern is always the same. There is a lot of anxiety and questioning, there is a period of transition where people have to change their mindset, and then there is the time when everyone is used to the schedule. Sometimes not everyone is happy with it, and there will always be problems, but I believe that our changes benefit the majority of people,” said Mr. Paul Jones, who has been a counselor at the school for ten years.
Currently, many teachers and students are facing scheduling issues that have caused them trouble and unhappiness in their routines.
“This year, I signed up to be in orchestra, which is really important to me, but it didn’t fit into my schedule because some classes are everyday, and some classes are every other day,” said Cara Delaney, a freshman at Monticello.
Teachers agree that the current schedule can sometimes throw curveballs.
“This year, I have no planning period on A days and two on B days, which, as confusing as it sounds, has actually worked out for me, but I’m lucky,” said Ms. Malinda Smith, who teaches all year-long classes.
A main motivation of the transition was to alleviate scheduling issues. “It is difficult with the current schedule to make everyone happy. With the lack of consistency between semester and year-long, it is impossible to get all students the classes that will make them happy and successful,” said Mr. Jones.
Some people doubt their problems will be solved with a year-long schedule.
“For me, the concern is how many students am I going to have, and how many types of classes am I going to have to teach. To me, if you’re going to add classes to teachers, then you need to reduce the class size,” said Mr. Dean Eliason, an eleventh grade English teacher.
Alternating block schedule is also intended to give students and teachers a longer amount of time to form relationships.
“I like the year- long schedule because it gives me more time working with the same students, so I’m not learning new names, and building new relationships with students half way through the year. Also, students don’t have to learn new classroom procedures and new schedules. I think there is a lot more consistency,” said Ms. Smith.
Mr. Eliason feels similarly about this benefit, but foresaw issues. “I really enjoy getting to know students over the course of a year. Kids mature so much throughout high school, and being a part of that development is a unique experience that is definitely a benefit of year-long classes,” he said.
“But when you have a situation where a teacher has year-long classes compared to semester-long, it’s a matter of numbers, not time…While bonds are easier to build with year-long classes, if I am trying to build relationships with a lot more people at the same time, is that really better?”
Delaney sees no benefit in relationships with teachers of year-long classes. “Currently, I have two alternating block classes, and those are the teachers I don’t have bonds with. I feel like I could go up and talk to all my other teachers, and be very comfortable about it, but my alternating classes have actually been an uncomfortable experience,” she said.
According to the Monticello Home Page’s Frequently Asked Questions page regarding Alternating Block, many students are worried about receiving more homework next year. Teachers have diverse opinions on the matter.
“I wouldn’t worry about getting more homework,” said Ms. Smith. “It’s true that students will have more classes at the same time, but because they will only go to each class every other day, they will have two days to do the homework instead of one. It actually gives you more flexibility. If you have a B class on Tuesday, but you also play a sport, and you have a match that night, well, your homework is due on Thursday so you can choose to do it the next night.”
Mr. Eliason saw another angle. “I think the schedule switch will be an organization issue for kids. They will have to learn to manage their time differently, and that’s tough. Sports and similar activities happen everyday, so even with two days to do homework, it will be difficult for students to catch a break,” he said.
He also brought up the issue of teenagers’ common lack of motivation. “If kids know that they don’t have to have something finished for two days, they most likely won’t do it until the day before it’s due. The longer the distance between classes, the farther the class is pushed back in a kid’s mind. If it has been a day since a student was taught certain material, and they are trying to do homework on it, it will be more difficult than doing the work the night of the class. But kids won’t do it until they have to,” he said.
Although both teachers had contrasting opinions on homework loads, they both saw some value of year-long classes for project-based learning within a certain criteria.
“If project based learning is going on inside of class, I don’t think it makes a big difference between year-long and semester. The actual length of class time is the same,” said Ms. Smith.
“I believe, especially for science, that labs and assignments where elements have to sit and exist for a while are more successful in year-long classes. For example, my AP class had a project with caterpillars growing and turning to butterflies, which took several weeks just because the caterpillars had to metamorphosize. A project like that would be hard to do in a semester class,” she said.
Mr. Eliason envisioned success in year-long classes, but not exactly as next year’s system will be. “I think to do the type of writing that I want my kids to do, it really requires between 15 and 20 kids each class, and I don’t have that,” he said.
“When I first started teaching, I had classes with 12 to 14 kids, and it was amazing. I can’t tell you the kinds of discussions we had the interaction and the flexibility I had to have conferences with more than just the kids who really need help,” he said. “That time just doesn’t exist anymore, and yet it is so vital to making a better student, writer, and critical thinker. I am here to work and help kids get that, but I need it to be manageable.”
Ms. Smith also imagined an ideal future regarding the Friday Schedule, when students and teachers go to all of their classes.
“One concern is that teachers often use Fridays as test days, and students end up with five tests on the same day. I think that can be avoided more by communication between teachers and other teachers, and communication between students and their teachers,” she said.
There are still many undecided variables about the upcoming schedule.
“There are a lot of things that we still don’t know about next year, but the administration will definitely work with the community and try to do the best they can do to make the most people happy, and to get the most benefit out of the year,” said Mr. Jones.
Hopefully, as the future further develops, this statement will come true, but there are still many questions.
“We have great kids here, and a hard working faculty who always attempts to make things happen. We just need to feel like the system is working with us and not against us, “ said Mr. Eliason.
Delaney also feels like the schedule could be hit or miss. “I think the actual learning process in my alternating classes isn’t better or harder than the others – it is just different. I definitely prefer semester classes now, but next year is undefined, and I look forward to seeing if it works out,” she said.
The new year will definitely be an experiment.
“I love experiments,” said Mr. Eliason. “I change things up all the time, but there are certain things I know that I won’t experiment with, like not writing. I’m not going to experiment with leaving my classes with work to do while I go take a break. There are certain things that make sense, and certain things that start to get on that line about to cross over to insanity. This schedule might be one of them.”