Archive for Monday, December 13, 2010

Adding options

Adding a seventh period to the day at local high schools will give students more opportunities to explore new classes and interests.

December 13, 2010

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High schools should encourage students to explore, but as academic requirements have expanded over the years, it’s become harder for students to fit in elective courses that interest them.

That’s why a plan to reapportion the school day at Lawrence high schools to fit in seven class periods seems like a positive move for students.

Local high schools currently have six class periods in the day plus an optional “zero hour” for students who are willing to start their school day at 7 a.m. in order to fit in more classes or get out of school earlier. Lawrence students are required to have 23 credits to graduate from high school; students who take six classes a year for four years would have 24.

That doesn’t leave much room for electives. After filling all the requirements in English, math, science and social studies, along with one credit each in physical education and fine arts, students taking a standard 24-class load have just 8.5 credits left over for elective classes. That may seem like quite a few, but the number dwindles pretty quickly for students who, for instance, want to take several years of foreign language or participate in both vocal and instrumental music groups throughout their four years in high school.

Having seven class periods would make it much easier to pursue those interests while also fulfilling basic academic requirements.

The district plans to keep the zero-hour option for students, but Frank Harwood, the district’s chief operations officer said officials expect that option to be utilized primarily by students who want to get out of school earlier, not those who want to take more classes. In fact, he said, the schools are likely to give special attention to any student who wants to enroll in eight credits at one time. Such a schedule would raise obvious concerns about a student being overloaded, he said.

The length of the overall school day at local high schools would remain the same so adding a seventh period would mean each class period is a few minutes shorter, but that doesn’t seem like a serious concern. Allowing students to take seven classes without dragging themselves to class at 7 a.m. also responds to recent research that shows that such an early start doesn’t mesh well with teenagers’ natural sleep cycles.

Some details remain to be worked out, including how to make sure the added class periods don’t overload teachers, but overall this seems like a good plan that would be well-timed to coincide with the transfer of ninth-graders to the district’s high schools next fall.

It’s always a little scary to shake up the status quo and do things differently. Congratulations to school officials for being willing to look at student needs and try something new.

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