Students, administrators weigh ASB blocks’ pros and cons

Students complete various tasks during ASB in early October 2022 – Pierce Laveran ’24

The first weeks of the 2022-2023 school year brought a need for significant adjustment. After two years of a quarter-based learning system, the upper school’s move to a continuous, semester-based schedule has inspired mixed reactions. But one idea remains consistent throughout Wilson Hall: despite any early challenges, the community will adapt.

Sixth Former Neil Sawhney feels the new schedule has provided some good things and some bad things, but he added that “that comes with every change.” 

Poll by Owen Yu ’23 and Ethan Chan ’23

Spanish teacher and Sixth Form Dean Ms. Brooke Kenna echoed this sentiment, saying, “No schedule is ever going to make everybody in the school happy. I understand why students may have appreciated having fewer classes for the past couple years. That said, I think once we get the hang of this, once we settle into it, once we address any minor challenges that we have, everybody’s going to really appreciate that there was a lot of careful planning that went into this, and it’s going to end up working out okay.” 

     Upper School Head Mr. Mark Fifer, one of the architects of the transition process, said that while it’s hard to reach complete agreement when planning a new academic schedule, he is happy with the shift thus far. 

“The true test will be not four weeks in, but after eight or twelve weeks or four months into the schedule as more demands are placed on students,” Mr. Fifer said. “But I’m pleased with the way in which the transition’s gone so far.”

Many students say that the best thing about the new schedule is the increased time to do work. Both because classes do not meet daily and because of the new Academic Support Block (ASB) between community block and second period, students and teachers have more of an opportunity to do work, get ahead, catch up, or conduct meetings. 

Fourth Former Zac Fuscaldo, who did not expect to prefer the new schedule to the quarter-based system, has found that he has more overall time for work. He said that he has more free time than last year, especially with the built-in ASB.

“I absolutely love ASB,” Fourth Former Mason Wiegand said. “There is nothing bad about having built-in time to do school work.”

Students work on math problems during ASB, October 2022 – Pierce Laveran ’24

However, one common gripe about ASB is its execution on Wednesdays. Because of the “late start” policy, Wednesday classes commence 30 minutes later than the rest of the week, and there is no community block. Thus, students remain in their first-period class for the 75-minute first period and through to the end of the 30-minute ASB. Effectively, they remain in their class for almost two hours. 

“It definitely takes a toll on how I feel because if I stay in the same room for almost two hours doing the same thing with no breaks,” Fuscaldo said, “It’s very hard to stay focused.”

While some enjoy the built-in work time provided by daily ASB, others find it unnecessary. 

“I rarely use ASB to get work done,” Sawhney said. 

Sawhney also feels that he has less time to do work than he did last year, especially because he no longer has a guaranteed free block. This has caused some problems, especially because of the disparity in workload on different days. “Some days I have double the homework as last year and some days I have half as [much as] last year,” Sawhney said.

Although the more spread-out schedule means that free blocks occur less frequently, some have found the change to be more positive than negative. 

“I appreciate the time in between classes. It keeps things fresh and interesting,” Wiegand said. 

I’ve already leveraged that block for my own teaching purposes, and it’s also been really valuable to have meetings where I can say ‘I know you’re free, let’s meet during the ASB.’ This time has provided that opportunity to not disrupt class and meet.

Mr. Mark Fifer

Ms. Kenna also appreciates the ability to spread work out. “You don’t necessarily have to do work for the next day. It’s given me an opportunity to plan ahead, catch up, and meet with students outside of class,” Ms. Kenna said. 

Ms. Kenna has also found that the ASB has helped her students both stay on top of their work and get the help that they need. She said that the “undivided time” she can spend with a student during ASB has been especially helpful.

Mr. Fifer thinks that the ASB is useful both as a teacher and as an administrator. 

“[The Academic Support Block] has provided a level of flexibility for me as a teacher,” Mr. Fifer said. “I’ve already leveraged that block for my own teaching purposes, and it’s also been really valuable to have meetings where I can say ‘I know you’re free, let’s meet during the ASB.’ This time has provided that opportunity to not disrupt class and meet.”

Mr. Fifer added that the ASB is flexible and may evolve. “We will be responsive to feedback that we get from an educational and philosophical standpoint.  The period aligns with our philosophy on providing some flexible time during the day for students to get individual work done or work on their community engagement,” Mr. Fifer said. “Philosophically, we feel good about [ASB] being something that’ll be around for a while.  How it’s used and the parameters around ASB may shift.”

     Regardless of any small changes to come, Mr. Fifer is looking to solidify a scheduling system. “We need to work hard to build some continuity for students,” Mr. Fifer said. “The seniors have had five different schedules in four years. As we come off of the pandemic, we want to build some level of continuity of experience.”

Author: Ian Rosenzweig '25

Ian Rosenzweig currently serves as Academics Editor and writer. He has also served as the editing director for The Foreign Policy Youth Collaborative, a youth nonprofit organization, for whom he has written content regarding international and domestic policy. His poem "Faithful Return" won the 2022 Berniece L. Fox Classics Writing Contest. In February 2023, three of his articles earned honorable mention recognition from the Philadelphia-area Scholastic Writing Awards.