A month has passed, and students and faculty have begun to settle into a new schedule that was constantly modified and rearranged behind the scenes to create a safe school environment.
As a part of the reopening plan, administrators spent countless hours trying to create a safe but effective schedule. Starting in late last spring, the administration solicited feedback from students regarding “Virtual Haverford” and national independent school scheduling experts.
Registrar Ms. Karen Skidmore attended a scheduling seminar in early June.
“It was specific to redesigning schedules in light of the pandemic,” Ms. Skidmore said. “One of the many things that they talked about was all the different schedules people could implement.”
Before choosing a reopening schedule model, the school had to answer a set of questions about the number of students and the amount of space available.
“The first piece after the workshop was determining, can we physically fit everyone who wants to be on campus, who is able to be on campus?” Ms. Skidmore said. “So we couldn’t do anything until we were able to find out how many desks we can fit into our classrooms, and what non-traditional classroom spaces we could use.”
Once these measurements were completed, the administration set four priorities: maintaining the health and wellness of the community members, establishing conditions to preserve in-person learning, ensuring that the schedule was flexible for both virtual and in-person learning, and keeping the essence of the school’s curriculum.
“We didn’t want to have to get rid of existing programming because of a scheduling framework that we went with,” Acting Head of Upper School Mr. Fifer said. “For example, we didn’t want to get rid of our elective programming and take away the option to choose a number of classes.”
The most pressing factor was health and wellness, and the four-quarter, three-block schedule became the solution. It enabled the school to put in practice many health-risk mitigations, like minimizing the number of peers a student comes in contact with every day and decreasing class sizes.
“We realized that we couldn’t keep one group of students in one room the whole day and rotate teachers in, “ Mr. Fifer said. “Students have a variety of levels of math and languages, so cohorting them would not be possible. This landed us on the three-block schedule.”
Once the school year kicked off, the final judgment came from teachers and students.
“Because you only have three classes, teachers can go more in-depth with the longer periods every day,” Fifth Former Bowen Deng said.
“It’s very hard for you guys to sit there for an hour and a half and pay attention, not only when I’m talking, but when you are working on assignments.”Science teacher Mrs. Kara Cleffi
Others agree that the longer periods allowed for more learning during the school day. With ninety minutes of class time, however, teachers struggle to maintain student interest.
“From the perspective of trying to keep you guys engaged and learning, it is extremely difficult,” Biology teacher Mrs. Kara Cleffi. “It’s very hard for you guys to sit there for an hour and a half and pay attention, not only when I’m talking, but when you are working on assignments.”
The science department is disproportionately affected, as labs and hands-on activities, integral parts to a normal curriculum, are impossible to orchestrate safely. But teachers from other departments also feel that the time duration, among other aspects of the schedule, is difficult to manage.
“It is very difficult to keep your focus during an hour and a half,” Spanish teacher Mr. Javier Lluch said. “With regards to other parts of the schedule, the four-quarter system is going to be tough [for my class].”
Still, the schedule has its positives. Mr. Lluch finds that having class every day is extremely beneficial, especially when learning a language.
With regards to the other changes, like the addition of fifteen minutes passing time and longer lunch and advisory periods, the reception has been positive.
“I do like the extra passing time,” Fifth Former Elijah Lee said, “especially since I have classes in Virtue Village and on the third floor of the upper school. Also, it’s nice not to worry about being late to class.
Lee also found the extra time with his advisory a welcome break in the middle of the day. Deng had similar opinions about the longer lunch period.
“They [longer lunches] allow me to get some work done in the middle of the day,” Deng said. “I can also talk with my advisor and fellow advisees.”
The most controversial aspect of the new schedule is the thirty-minute flex block at the end of each day. Some, like Mrs. Cleffi, were thrilled.
“I’ve actually been able to meet with students for extra help, and everybody is available then,” Mrs. Cleffi said. “I have always wished there was a built-in help session in the schedule, so having that half hour is just great.”
Mr. Lluch, on the other hand, believes the block is hit or miss, as many students either utilize it to its fullest potential or are unable to do so.
“I have to take the train home,” Fourth Former Owen Yu said, “so I haven’t been able to talk to any one of my teachers at 2:45.”
He does believe, however, that the flex period offers a great time slot that he would utilize if given the opportunity. Lee uses this period every day, but for purposes other than meeting teachers.
“For me, that time [flex] is taken up by orchestra and Notables,” Lee said. “I think it is good to have a block set aside in the schedule.”
“Having lived through this schedule, I feel confident that it is the right schedule for this moment and for meeting the criteria. There are a lot of positives, both from a health standpoint and a learning standpoint, from this schedule.”Acting Upper School Head Mr. Mark Fifer
All schedules have their pros and cons, and with the recent circumstances, it has taken Haverford much more time and effort to create the one, but so far there have been more positives than negatives.
“Having lived through this schedule, I feel confident that it is the right schedule for this moment and for meeting the criteria,” Mr. Fifer said. “There are a lot of positives, both from a health standpoint and a learning standpoint, from this schedule.”