Modified schedule to affect classroom atmosphere

The new schedule features three rotating long blocks during an intensive eight-week quarter – courtesy of Mr. Mark Fifer

Throughout the summer, Interim Upper School Head Mr. Mark Fifer and his colleagues were presented with several potential schedules for the 2020-2021 school year, all of which followed CDC health guidelines. Eventually, they decided to go with the quarter-block schedule—three blocks per quarter and four quarters throughout the school year. Students will partake in the same three courses for just over two months, before moving on to three different courses. Classes run from 8:45-10:15, 10:30-12:00, and 1:15-2:45, with shorter classes on Wednesdays.

    “You have this really intense experience for two months where you see three classes every day,” Mr. Fifer said.

    “We wanted to maintain the essence of our core programming,” Mr. Fifer said. “Some of the models that we were looking at would not allow us to do that, meaning that we would have to get rid of certain classes, or maybe even certain levels of classes in order to meet the health and safety needs of our community.”

    “We feel like it [the quarter block schedule] opens up some new opportunities for teaching and learning. Having longer class periods leads to the possibility of a deeper dive into content and skill-building,” Mr. Fifer said. “Having the greater frequency of the meeting also leads to some new opportunities in regard to the content.”

    Although the plan is for classes to be held in person for the foreseeable future, the schedule is also beneficial to virtual learning if need be at some point.

    Mr. Fifer said, “Having three classes at a time in a virtual world is much easier to navigate than having five or six classes and having to go in between those different subjects.”

    One of the schedule’s challenges will be maintaining student engagement and a positive classroom atmosphere as a result of the social distancing guidelines, the repetitive class meetings, and long classes. 

    “We talked to the teachers about how we need to have different modes of learning; a mix of teacher-centered modes, meaning direct instruction, and student-centered modes, which would be collaborative tasks and individual work,” Mr. Fifer said. “Over the summer, teachers engaged with professional development and student-centered instruction; iDesign to really think about how we can maximize student engagement and learning, and what tactics we need to employ in order to accomplish that.”

    Chemistry teacher Mr. Chris DiBello plans to address the challenges students will face in terms of staying focused and engaged. 

“We are going to blend in activities throughout each class and use a much more hands-on, investigative textbook. So, much more of the work will be done by students as opposed to lectures.”

MAth teache Dr. Mark GottlIEb

    Mr. DiBello said, “Nobody wants to sit in a chair for ninety minutes listening to a teacher talk. One thing [the faculty] will focus on is how to take that ninety minutes and break it up into more manageable chunks.”

    “We are not expecting anyone to sit there for ninety minutes,” said algebra and economics teacher Dr. Mark Gottlieb. “We are going to blend in activities throughout each class and use a much more hands-on, investigative textbook. So, much more of the work will be done by students as opposed to lectures.”

     Although the classes may be long and become repetitive, the schedule may take the stress off of students in some ways.

    Mr. DiBello said, “The benefit, which is probably being over-looked a little bit, is that [the students] only have three classes. So instead of, ‘Mr. DiBello, I had math, English, history, Spanish homework, and so much other stuff to do, now it’s just [for example] chemistry, history, and English.’”

   Another benefit of the long class periods, especially for a class like chemistry, is that classes will still be able to conduct hands-on labs while maintaining social distance and following health guidelines.

    “Obviously, we cannot have one group of kids use the same instruments as another group,” Mr. DiBello said.  “We will either have to set up multiple different stations, or we can take a more simple approach and bring two kids into the lab who will be socially distanced while the other students work from our module based system in the classroom. Then, the teacher will clean all instruments and glassware in between, before the next two students come into the lab.”

   Teachers will have to adjust their teaching styles and methods throughout each quarter as they learn more about how the modified schedule affects students. And teachers are ready to get things going.

Mr. DiBello said, “It’s exciting because there is going to be so much continuity!”

Author: Ryan Rodack '22

Ryan serves as an Editor-in-Chief for and is in his fourth year working for The Index. He previously served as the arts section editor and a managing editor. In the spring of 2021, Ryan earned recognition from the Scholastic Writing Awards for for his piece features piece, “Mr. Andrén pursues his dream job.” Ryan most frequently covers the sports, features, and news sections in his writing.