It’s safe to say that this 2020-2021 school year has embodied the phrase, “out with the old, and in with the new” to an extreme. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the days of squishing next to one another in the ampitheatre to find a seat during assembly are unthinkable. Instead, 400-people Zoom calls have become our new norm. Obviously, the most overt change has been our “E-troduction” to our school year. Many students plan to continue some or all of their classes online for the entire year. Meanwhile, the buzz about our virtual and physical returns to school has overshadowed the switch from our infamous seven-day schedule to the new A/E day format.
Let’s remind ourselves of the seven-day schedule for old times’ sake. The day began at 8 am (which feels awfully early now) and ended at 3 pm. Each day had four, 75 minute class blocks out of each student’s seven blocks in total. On even days (2,4,6), 2-3 pm was reserved for respective Flex times, and on odd days (1,3,5,7), an hour or so was dedicated to assemblies, announcements, and advisories. The day consisted of a 15-minute milk break and structured so the first block of one day would become the last block of the next, while the other three met two days afterwards. How could one forget the renowned Day 7 that began at 9 am and had the joyous “long lunch” that lasted for an hour, compared to the 40-ish minutes lunches on the other days?
Then the coronavirus struck and a new E-learning schedule was developed in April and served us for the rest of the school year, for both Middle and Upper school. This A/B day schedule consisted of four, 60-minute class blocks on A-day and three, 60 minute class blocks on B-day, with the addition of an advisory period and/or flex times during the last hour. Despite pushing back the start time to 9 am, lunch was elongated to an hour and milkbreak was removed. A notable feature of this schedule was 30 minute office hours before or after each class, and Wednesdays off. Wednesdays were used as an asynchronous day intended to give students a break from their screens and focus on current assignments and projects, and for faculty to prepare and adjust their lesson plans for the coming days and weeks.
The A/E day schedule this year encompasses some of the early quarantine schedule’s characteristics, like the two-day rotating schedule and lack of milkbreak. However, this year, students have four, 70 minute class blocks each day, for a total of eight blocks. The day begins at 8:30, and every morning from 10:45-11:45, there is a community activity, flex meeting, advisory, or just free time. Lunch is 35 minutes long and the two classes at the end of the day have a five minute passing period in between.
Considering how different this year’s schedule is compared to the former schedules listed above, I spoke with Mr. Trocano to get a better understanding of the purpose and creation of this format. He shared that the schedule was created in order to provide the best instruction while maintaining a healthy and happy student body who can manage their time appropriately. Based on the feedback received in the spring, the schedule has been simplified to provide the proper balance between asynchronous and synchronous time during the school day. 70 minute classes give teachers enough time for an informative lesson without straining the students too much or causing them to lose focus. However, students and parents believed full Wednesdays off were too much free time, and a five-day school week is back in place. It’s no surprise that the 9 am start time was a hit, alluding to why classes start at 8:30 now rather than 8. Additionally, the middle and upper school now have class blocks at the same times, a huge bonus for any teachers in both sections or middle school students who attend Upper School classes.
Teachers who have both middle and upper school students have been supportive of this schedule change and find it much easier to coordinate and plan their classes without worrying about overlap. Other teachers have noted that having two days in between classes allows students to process the information and complete their respective assignments more carefully, ensuring that they can master the content. The two-day ‘sink-in time’ for content gives teachers the opportunity to determine what needs to be retaught and what students are already familiar with. Upon speaking with numerous teachers, I heard mixed reviews about the 70 minute class period. Some teachers find that much too little to cover the material, considering some classes only meet twice a week, while others are ending their classes early to give students less time away from the screen. Thoughts on the block length have been especially variable as each teacher has a unique schedule. Some teachers may have all their classes on one day, which can be interpreted as a huge energy drain or a convenience.
Mr. Trocano mentioned that a common piece of feedback he has received is that the passing period between the last two blocks of the day needs to be extended. Without milkbreak, it can be difficult to sneak in an afternoon snack or rest your eyes before the last class of the day. The results of an Upper School-wide student survey reflect this complaint, but the majority of the 100 students who responded have noted the repetitive nature of the schedule can be unmotivating and is their greatest challenge. Whether it be that, “I sometimes have classes that I don’t like in the morning” or that the “schedule isn’t balanced: A-day is packed with hard classes, E-day is super easy with free blocks”, many students miss the variation of the seven day schedule, regardless of its complex nature. While the A/E day format is more consistent, it means that end-of-the-day and morning classes are often filled with half-asleep students, provoking a slight disadvantage for some classes. However, this concern is incredibly dependent on the individual’s schedule, as preferences of morning versus afternoon classes, having certain subjects at certain times, having all “hard” classes on one day with all free periods on the other, is not homogenous amongst the student body.
These individual preferences have led some students to find the consistency of the schedule to be a positive. Students say “I like how predictable it is and easier to memorize when blocks are starting or ending. Last year I couldn’t keep it straight with the times for things changing every day” and “I like that we have 4 different classes each day that doesn’t meet two days in a row.” Having two days to get homework done before the next class has been a common advantage observed by the survey. And, with the addition of the 8th block, students are able to add a free block and have more time to either do assignments or get a well-deserved break from the screen. Overall, a 24 % majority showed that on a scale from 1-10 on how satisfied they are with the current schedules, most students voted an 8, with a 9 being a close second. The combination of a later start, extra block, and a more simple format has proven to be a hit amongst most students. Perhaps the A/E day format will become the new normal at LJCDS and continue in the future.
In fact, Mr. Trocano and Ms. Poh were leading a committee last January to examine the schedule but put the project on pause due to COVID-19. Mr. Trocano said he will evaluate the success of this year’s schedule and continue to gather feedback from a wide array of students, parents, faculty, and staff, in order to maximize the student experience and ensure that academics and well-being are at utmost priority.
Photo credit: La Jolla Country Day School