Opinions and behind the scenes: The Upper School schedule concern

Opinions+and+behind+the+scenes%3A+The+Upper+School+schedule+concern

Saam Seddigh, Staff Writer

The daily schedule of classes at La Jolla Country Day has always been a topic of controversy. Ask anyone who has been attending LJCDS for a few years and it will become evident that the daily schedule at LJCDS has been a highly debated, and often complicated, issue for both the students and the teachers. The schedule has felt like an ever-changing system that students just had to manage and that administrators had to continually fix.

During my freshman and sophomore years, between 2018 and 2020, the schedule remained consistent. Even though it had been reworked a couple of times before then, it felt like the Administration had finally worked it out. It was a 7-day rotation schedule, much like the one we have right now, but without the 5th gray block that is currently in place. Teachers didn’t seem to have too many problems with this format and neither did the students—at least I didn’t.

As it did with the entire world, the COVID-19 pandemic threw all of our lives into a frenzy and the Administration  scrambled to come up with a schedule that would fit our “temporary” online situation. I applaud them for being able to come up with something so quick.

They decided on a set 2-day rotation schedule that operated as such: Monday was blocks A through D, Tuesday was blocks E-H. Wednesday was a day off to either work or relax, although I’ll be honest in saying that they weren’t very clear in explaining specifically how Wednesdays should be spent. Thursdays would have the same schedule as Mondays and Fridays would have the same schedule as Tuesdays. To summarize, it was A Day, E Day, day off, A Day, E Day. This schedule carried on for the remaining quarter of the 2019-2020 academic year.

When we returned for the 2020-2021 academic year, it was the same structure as the year before, but without Wednesdays off. So a week would go A-E-A-E-A and the following week would be E-A-E-A-E. I understand that the pandemic would have a huge impact on how the schedules are made, but it’s also easy to understand the extra stress that a brand new schedule, without a mid-day break can put on students who are already experiencing a lot of rapid change.

I personally prefer the original 7-day rotation schedule most. It felt nice to have a rotating schedule with only 4 classes per day because it gave me a natural flow. If there was a specific day that I really didn’t like, I only had that schedule once every rotation cycle. I met with a class no more than twice in a row, and the workload felt somewhat manageable.

After experiencing the A day-E day schedule of last year, I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I liked the fact that the schedule was predictable and not confusing. Since the schedule didn’t rotate, I would have the same classes at the same times every other day. I personally benefited from it because I had A and E free, so I had a free period every single morning. However, this was purely based on my own luck.

Anyone in a situation that was unfortunate enough to have classes that they don’t like first thing in the morning would be stuck having that class first thing every single day. That was one of the major problems with the A-E schedule, one’s luck, based on what block/time certain classes were, determined how “good” their schedule was. Due to the fact that the schedule did not rotate, if you happened to have English at 1:45, you would have English at the same time. Every. Single. Time.

Not only did this system cause problems for students, but it also irritated teachers too. Any teacher or student knows that everyone is least functional the first block in the morning and the last block in the afternoon. Any teacher who taught a certain class in the morning or at the end of the day would have to teach that class at the same time for the rest of the year. I spoke with Upper School humanities teacher Mr. West about the issue who said “I like when I’m not always seeing one block first thing in the morning or last thing in the afternoon. We all know that the first class in the morning and the last class in the afternoon are probably not the most productive, so when that ended up being the same class over and over again, that wasn’t really ideal. This is particularly true in AP courses which have a very fixed curriculum.”

It often seemed, though, that students and teachers had conflicting opinions on the A-E schedule. While students actually seemed to like it because of its consistency, teachers disliked it for that exact reason. 

With so many conflicting views, administrators turned to a new schedule for the 2021-2022 academic year, one that they feel would maximize the time that students have with their teachers. Unfortunately, students once again disliked it for the increasing amount of class time compared to the prior year. With the structure of this new schedule, students would have a certain class three days in a row and it became understandably tiring.

I spoke with the Dean of Academics and Student life for juniors and seniors—and also my advisor—Mr. Jenkins to discuss his role in the creation of the new schedule. When asked about what factors he took into consideration when creating the schedule, he responded, “One consideration was the number of meeting times or the length of meeting times, or another way of thinking about that is the contact time that teachers have with their students, which is important to have enough time to cover all the material over the course of the year.”

One senior shared their general thoughts on the new schedule, saying, “I was not excited about it because it was like the 7-day rotation schedule that we had in freshman and sophomore year that I don’t remember liking  …  It’s hard having lunch so late in the day, I wish it was earlier. We have three classes and community time before lunch, so I think that was a lot. I think having four of the same class in one week is a lot. It’s not an awful schedule, and I’ve been able to adapt, but it’s not my favorite.”

For anyone who was reading for the intent of hearing about the Voldemort of this schedule, gray block, don’t go anywhere yet. Administration wanted to increase the time that teachers and students are in class together and their solution was to add a fifth block to the school day. However, they introduced the risk of having homework assignments for five separate classes due on a single day. Their solution was to introduce the concept of gray block as the last period of the day.

During that period, the general consensus was that teachers could not assign assignments for that block, teach new material during that block, and have quizzes or tests during those blocks. Even though these were some of the agreed-upon guidelines, certain pieces of them were left up to interpretation for the teachers. As a result, many students and teachers still had a lot of confusion surrounding the new block.

One of the major issues with gray block was that teachers didn’t feel like they knew enough about the block in order to maximize their use of it. Mr. West said, “I think we could have gotten a little bit more, I mean like I said, they gave us those kinds of guidelines. Yeah, maybe it would have been nice to have some sort of, more sort of concrete examples of what folks were thinking it would look like.” Administrators themselves tried their best to give sufficient notes about how to use gray blocks, but maximizing the value of the periods still proved a difficult feat. As stated by Mr. Jenkins, “I think it’s like most new things that you start. We give what we thought was sufficient information and then we see how it goes and adjust accordingly after meeting with department chairs and various teachers.”

It really seems like the problem with the upper school schedule is just the struggle of trying to balance all the benefits for teachers and students, while simultaneously trying not to clash with the middle school’s schedule. Students and teachers all individually gain something from certain parts of each schedule. I commend the administrators for doing their best to ensure that the satisfaction level is as high as possible. Obviously, this schedule is new and people are still trying to adapt, but I don’t think it would hurt for the administration to listen to people’s grievances and make some adjustments. Concerns like the confusion surrounding gray block, the lateness of lunch, and too much time in the classroom are all things that should be considered, and I implore the administration to try.