Online Learning Highlights Necessary Changes for In-Person Schedule

  • Axel de Vernou ’21 & William Briger ’21

We are in a moment of our school’s history where time has never been more relevant. 

We are the first students to experience a Sacred Heart education remotely, which adds a new aspect to the conversation we have been having in the HeartBeat this semester. How does an education provided at school differ from what we can do at home, and is the time we spend in our physical classrooms allocated in the best way possible? In this article, the HeartBeat is analyzing both the in-person and online schedule to help discuss what SHP can do to improve the educational experience. For some context on this discussion, readers can look at the previously published articles in this investigation.

As Sacred Heart moved to an online format as a response to the coronavirus, the schedule and learning environment experienced some immense changes that allowed students to better understand the pros and cons of our schedules. After some experimentation, the administration determined that the best way to provide the same workload while maximizing student-teacher interaction was a shift from 4-5 one hour daily classes to 1-2 three hour classes that would meet once a week. However, with teachers having the option to introduce flexibility into this three hour slot and a lack of regimentation between periods, the school can evaluate whether some of the online changes can be adapted for future schedule changes when students return to campus.

One question that this series has been grappling with since the beginning is whether students are maximizing the time that they spend seated inside of the classroom and during extracurricular/enrichment periods, like Office Hours and the W-Z periods. It creates the question, are students utilizing their time during online school? “I feel like I have become increasingly more efficient at home over the past few weeks, however I still believe [regular] school allows me to get more work done. [Regular] school provides more regimented time slots to allow us to do work, whereas virtual school leaves a lot of free will,” says Ethan Veghte ‘21. Ethan explains that this new, loose schedule allows students to be more “productive, but [he] can see that it is still difficult to be motivated.” The inability for students to see friends, have in-person meetings with counselors and teachers, and fully make use of the physical resources that Sacred Heart provides certainly restricts the freedom that students have in their schedule since they are very much limited to the same screens every day.

Many students concur with Ethan’s perspective about the rapid shift in their schedules. “For me, doing work from home takes a lot more time because I tend to get distracted a lot more easily. The work is given all at once, and when I see a big pile of work in front of me, I can’t find the motivation to finish all of it quickly and as a result, I procrastinate,” says Aroosh Kumar ‘22. Similarly, Rohil Lokuge ‘22 adds, “The work is manageable. I can get it done, however sometimes I procrastinate a bit since I have so much time on my hands.” Clearly, one of the benefits of regular school that the student body sometimes forgets is that it allows for one to be in an environment where one’s peers and teachers are there to help provide focus and clarity instead of unrestricted freedom.

However, other students have seen academic school as an opportunity for personal growth. Will Swart ‘23 said “I have plenty of time to do assignments well … which definitely relieves stress” and Harisson Rohlen ‘23 said “ it provides extra time for me to engage in other/new activities, spend more time with my family, and work harder on my academic and athletic goals.” For some students, extra space and time can be daunting. Harisson and Will, however, have tried to take advantage of the quarantine to make good use of their time. Caroline Box 21’ also shared Will and Harissons view when she said “it’s nice to take a step back and take the classes at my own pace.”

While this schedule is not perfect, it does point out some major positives and negatives aspects of regular school. In-person school provides organization and helps motivate students, but it also creates immense stress and takes time away from personal, non-academic endeavours which are crucial for student development. With these observations more noticeable in the new online environment, many have offered more specific success and failures of the in-person schedule.

When asked to comment on the regular schedule before the online transition, Spanish teacher Mr. Jesus Ramos said: “I absolutely love the current daily schedule and have found one hour class periods to be extremely effective and efficient.” The reasons that he provides include that “they allow time within an hour to check in with students at the beginning and end of class” and that teachers can “set up different activities within the hour of class.” Megan Tinsley ‘21 agrees, saying that she thinks “55-60 minute classes are perfect for learning and not too long to the point where [she gets] tired of sitting.” For classes in the world languages department in particular, there is “time for students to communicate in written and spoken form in a way that the teacher can guide the students toward producing different modes of  communication,” explains Mr. Ramos.

In their comments, other teachers mentioned more specific reasons for the lack of time and stress issues at SHP. Science Department Head Ms. Diane Sweeney said that “Students take too many classes so they are unable to deeply focus on the content they are learning.” Math teacher Ms. Courtney York agreed with Ms. Sweeney by saying that “the rotating schedule is too busy.”  This was a common complaint among teachers and students alike. Another issue teachers saw was classes not being long enough. Ms. Sweeney added, “as a science teacher, I would like a longer period once in a while for labs” and Ms. York suggested “a longer math period… for exploration, discussion, and real world application.” On the other hand, Ms. Jones said “If I met with my students 45 minutes-55 minutes each day for five days a week that would be better for student learning.” 

Most people on campus recognize that the schedule is too busy, but when interviewees were asked to provide an alternative solution to the current in-person schedule, the responses were actually very similar: a block-rotation mixed schedule. Co-Head of the English Department Ms. Fehmeen Picetti said that she would prefer “block days…were some classes will meet for longer than others. This could mean classes as long as 90 or 105 minutes.” Ms. Sweeney added, “At my old school, all classes would be different lengths and we would somehow fit it into the schedule.”

Ms. York echoed all of the previous points, saying, “There are other models we should investigate instead of the rotating schedule… Eighty minute classes allow for exploration and reflection, for example.” 

Of course, whenever a change is made to a school’s schedule, the curriculum is altered as a result. If classes meet less times during the week for longer periods, then teachers might have to make adjustments to the material that they teach. Ms. Picetti explained, “I do think this experience right now where we were forced to move online very quickly is making teachers ask how we can maximize time,” citing the example that the English department’s ninth grade team, “didn’t want to do Shakespeare remotely” because students had less time on a weekly basis in their English class. She said “We didn’t think this decision was best for our students as reading Shakespeare requires more teacher direction than other texts.” If SHP adopts a schedule where classes meet less frequently, certain departments might have to reevaluate their curricula to make sure that students are getting enough support in their classes.

Students and teachers from all sections of campus have recognized that the current school schedule has many advantages that provide students with an optimal education; however, they have also recognized that there are many flaws in the schedule that create a culture of stress. Readers can look at the previous two articles of this series in the Investigative Issue and Issue 5 to hear about student experiences with anxiety, lack of sleep, and many other issues that prevent them from taking advantage of all that SHP offers. 

The pitfalls and solutions come in varying forms when speaking with different members of the campus, though a rotating block schedule seems to be a popular choice among those interviewed. While Sacred Heart is doing a good job educating and preparing its students, school life is filled with too many commitments and we are clearly in a moment where we need to experiment and research a better schedule in order to make these changes. As seen by the new online system, adopted out of necessity, there are advantages to different models of education too. To provide the best possible education and experience to SHP students, it is time for Sacred Heart to revive the conversation of time and make a considerable change to the flow of the school day.

Photo by Ava Borchers ’21

By Axel de Vernou

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