On October 26 and 27, PHS experienced two days of classes in a hybrid schedule as a test for a proposed 2018-19 schedule change that would incorporate two days of block scheduling per six full eight-period days. The implementation of hybrid scheduling is part of a larger initiative from the district to change the daily schedule and school year calendar to reduce stress and increase student engagement.
Other potential changes include a later start and end time for the school day, an earlier start and end date for the school year, and a reassessment of holidays and break placement. The changes were pushed for after reviewing the Stanford Challenge Success Survey.
The PHS Bell Committee and the Board of Education hope that a delayed school start time would allow students to get more sleep and thus alleviate some of the stress that pervades in the Princeton Public Schools district. As of now, the latest start time in consideration for the 2018-19 school year is 8:45 a.m.
“Some of [the changes] came out of the [Challenge Success] survey, looking at what students identified as stressors for themselves, looking at how much sleep or lack of sleep students were getting … we looked at sports schedules [as well],” said Annie Kosek, Assistant Superintendent. “[We also looked] at 21st century teaching and what that looks like in the classroom.”
Another method of reducing stress levels is shifting the school year calendar to start prior to Labor Day. This allows for Advanced Placement classes to more thoroughly prepare for mid-May testing and enhances their engagement in classes.
“We want [to] not have a “dead” time at the end of the year [in AP classes] where not much is being done and many people don’t show up,” said Student Liaison Brian Lu ’18.
Additionally, an earlier start and end to the school year would reduce many students’ conflicts with summer camps or school jobs that begin in early June and currently overlap with the school year calendar.
Furthermore, the new yearly schedule would be accompanied by a reform in break and holiday timing. Currently, PPS administration feels that long weekends cluster too closely around November, indicated by the recent two four-day weekends due to the New Jersey Education Association Convention and Thanksgiving. As a result, the district is looking to reduce the number of November long weekends in the future.
Additionally, PHS Student Liaisons have been pushing for to have Lunar New Year holiday off, pointing to the significant Asian population in the district.
“The Lunar New Year isn’t just Chinese. [It’s] also Japanese [and] Korean as well. Another Asian-heavy district, West-Windsor Plainsboro, has Chinese New Year off [as well],” said Lu.
While potential schedules for the 2018-19 have been drawn up, none of the changes have been finalized. Alterations to the schedule are anticipated to become final by the end of winter, as the Bell Committee continues to use input from students and faculty.
The hybrid schedule trial elicited mixed responses from both students and teachers in a survey administered by the Student Liaisons, which gained a sample size of 235 students. While it has strong proponents, many students are hesitant to deviate from their current routine. According to the survey, 31.1 percent of responders were against the hybrid schedule, 49.8 percent were in favor of it, and 19.1 percent were ambivalent.
There were also concerns that with just a two-day trial, as students were unable to get a realistic sense of a regular hybrid schedule experience. Some students felt that their teachers took advantage of the trial days to simply give tests or have a relaxed day where little to no work was accomplished. Others felt that despite longer periods of teaching, they didn’t feel distracted or bored in classes.
“I heard more than once that [students were] pleasantly surprised; there was apprehension [about long periods] going into it … but students felt that time went by pretty quickly,” said Principal Gary Snyder.
But due to the short trial time and limited sample size of the administered survey, Student Liaisons believe that the survey results may not accurately reflect student perceptions of hybrid scheduling.
Drafts for the schedule also include a set period of time, currently unnamed, during one of the two block schedule days, in which students are free to meet with teachers for help or to make up assessments or participate in projects or clubs, where PHS student engagement is high. On the other block schedule day, time will be set aside for Peer Group.
“The survey talked a lot of about student engagement….Students were ‘doing’ school but not necessarily always engaged. [The schedule changes] won’t fix all of that, but it’s a step toward the right direction,” said Snyder. “I’m hoping that the change [with] instruction and curriculum helps to change our approach to teaching and learning so that it’s more hands-on.”