This school year has been a unique one, to say the least.
With all Wake County public high schoolers having done school virtually this past semester, becoming accustomed to the new way of learning has been a challenge for students, parents, teachers, and administrators alike.
While the curveballs and emerging statistics have made it difficult to predict our community’s situation even weeks into the future, the 6 months of quarantine preceding the start of the 2020-2021 school year should have allowed adequate planning and decision making from Leesville’s school board.
However, it seems uncertainty still thickened the air, and at the end of November the school released a new bell schedule for both in-person and virtual students in the upcoming spring semester.
The new bell schedule raises many concerns for students at Leesville, including myself.
For one, the new schedule fails to take into consideration the different needs that virtual and in-person students will have. It lengthens classes by an additional 20 minutes. The 90 minute class periods will not only be longer than class periods were before quarantine began, they will also force virtual students to remain on screen for far longer.
The schedule provides no insight as to how classes with both in-person and virtual students will function.
Holding virtual students to the same schedule as in-person students will force them to spend more time staring at their computer screens, which will decrease attendance, attention, and productivity. They will not have the same immersive learning experience or opportunities for social interaction that their in-person counterparts will engage in, and their needs for limited screen time and maximized active engagement deserve to be addressed.
The school board should have prioritized achieving these goals by keeping, if not shortening, the current lengths of virtual classes and allowing students to focus on assignments rather than having to stare at a computer screen. In doing so, virtual students would be more inclined to partake in their schoolwork, and the disadvantage they suffer from in terms of mental health and lack of socialization would have been accounted for.
Another problematic feature of the new bell schedule is that by increasing class time, the school board has chosen to slash the lunch period from 2 hours to a mere 25 minutes. While the 2 hour lunch may seem unnecessarily long (and perhaps it was), it was still far more beneficial than the newly-instated 10 minute transition periods will be, especially for virtual students. The long lunch provided a much-needed break in the middle of the day that allowed students to work on homework, take a nap (just because we are doing school virtually doesn’t mean we get to go to sleep any earlier), help parents and younger siblings, run errands, pick up food, or have the opportunity for socially-distanced lunches with a friend.
For many high school students who have jobs, homework, and extracurricular activities, lunch was their only opportunity to socialize throughout the week. Robbing virtual students (who already don’t have social class time) of their only opportunity to step outside, meet a friend, take a nap, or otherwise take care of their mental health was an unnecessary step meant to reinstate an old schedule that was created under very different circumstances.
Overall, the school board’s decisions regarding the schedule change are disappointing and frustrating. The new bell schedule is a pertinacious attempt to reinstate a one-sided school schedule in a two-sided learning environment. One can only hope that virtual academy students will be given their fair portion of asynchronous time within the hour and a half long class periods.