Let’s admit it. School life is anything but normal nowadays. Just a few weeks ago we were spending warm spring afternoons on the patio, navigating the bustling hallway traffic, spending free periods in the library while sneaking whispers to friends, surviving long blocks, and attending assemblies twice a week in the MEW. As the school year comes to a close, we now find ourselves waking up twenty minutes before classes, baking copious amounts of bread, viewing our teachers and classmates through computer screens, and attempting to make it through our afternoons, all while keeping up with the latest news updates.
The transition to distance learning wasn’t exactly smooth for everyone, and the Division Heads, Assistant Division Heads, and Dean of Academics and Community were hard at work crafting a new schedule that would maximize student-teacher interactions while still regulating screen time. Despite continuous redrafts of the schedule, students are still struggling to manage their time, workload, and stress.
The initial distance learning schedule that went into full effect on Wednesday, March 18th only outlined the synchronous times. The schedule was designed so that students would be online from between 10 am and 12 pm, each class would check-in two times a week for 20 minutes, and students would receive 10-minute breaks in-between classes. That left students free to do work in the afternoons.
Based on an overwhelming amount of feedback and survey data from students, parents, teachers, and neighboring schools, the administration decided to make some major changes, including the extension of class periods, alternating synchronous and asynchronous time, increasing the number of club meetings, and limiting advising to once a week.
In an interview conducted by Sonia Mahajan, Saya McKenna clarified that the administration “didn’t want to extend synchronous screen time beyond 30 minutes because of data and reports of diminishing returns (and other damaging side effects) of excessive screen time. That said, we still imagine that students will be in front of screens for more than 30 minutes, given that a lot of instructional resources, materials, and interaction with peers are now accessed and conducted virtually.”
Even when social distancing, the School’s notorious amount of homework continues to consume a major portion of students’ time. The heavy amount of work, coupled with the alternating synchronous and asynchronous sessions, has led to some confusion amongst students and teachers. The student feedback, which McKenna reported, stated that “having assignments due before the next class meeting verses at the end of the period relieves stress for a variety of reasons [because it allows for] some breathing room and less time pressure for students who need more processing time.” In attempts to relieve stress and minimize screen fatigue, the administration asks that teachers be mindful of the amount of classwork they assign during the 45-minute asynchronous sessions “so that students can complete their work within the allocated school day [instead of] adding on additional work that cuts into necessary downtime and family time.”
As someone who has relatively good time management and executive functioning skills (at least that’s what I like to think), I much preferred having all of the synchronous meetings in the morning so that I could have my entire lunch and afternoons free to do work. I do agree that 30-minute classes are much more productive and valuable, but I personally find those 45-minute breaks in between classes a bit awkward.
Many of my peers expressed similar reactions to this aspect of the schedule, explaining that it typically takes more than 45 fully focused minutes to complete an assignment, and having to stop in the middle and come back to it later in the day is somewhat disorienting. McKenna stated, “We hope that the classwork (perhaps the more encompassing term) assigned will be do-able within the school day (asynchronous and homework blocks)… so that’s about 75 minutes of work per class with overflow limited to 30 minutes one to two times a week.”
For many students, including myself, switching between assignments is quite draining because we have to constantly shift our focus from one topic to the next. Though our current schedule is more detailed and fully fleshed out, I’m strangely feeling more unorganized. Nonetheless, I understand the intention of the 45-minute breaks because some students function better with a more structured day. Unfortunately for us students who prefer more flexibility, specifically the upperclassmen, we now have to pay the price.
For those wondering if there will be any more changes made to the schedule if we have to continue this distanced format in the future, McKenna stated that the administration “will be formally surveying the broader community and continuing broader research to see if and how [they] can adjust and improve the experience.” For now, the schedule remains the same.
When taking all the feedback and adjustments into account, we must keep in mind that this time is a learning experience for both students and staff members. While we try to retain some normalcy in our lives, we must realize that our current situation is much more permanent than we hoped it would be. Our new, confusing reality now purely consists of virtual interactions, and whether we like it or not, we must accept the fact that we are schooling in a time of crisis. It’s not going to be easy for everyone, but the least we can do right now is attempt to welcome change.