Rationale behind new bell schedule

To accommodate the move to online school, a new bell schedule was developed for the 2020-2021 school year. The schedule changes include block schedules: longer class periods and fewer classes per day, and a day for asynchronous learning

The schedule was created by Tim Kenney, principal, and Joseph Patek, assistant principal, as part of a work group made up of community members, school administrators and health professionals. The work group met over the summer to solve problems brought up by online school. Kenney and Patek’s group held the task of creating a new bell schedule. 

“It was pretty much ongoing work all summer. There was a large community work group that was established pretty much right after the end of last school year,” Kenney said. “[Our] group went over and we would work on the teaching and learning pieces… [Creating the schedule] was part of a much bigger picture of what the teaching and learning was going to look like this year.”

Kenney and Patek started out with the feedback they received regarding the online learning at the end of last school year, and what other school districts had done for their virtual climate. They had heard good things from school districts who had block schedules, and bad things from schools who had seven periods a day.

“The school districts that did do a seven hour a day bell schedule in the virtual world definitely reported that students were very overwhelmed by that and that that was just way too much screen time,” Kenney said. 

In this schedule, there are four “synchronous” learning days –– where students attend live virtual classes with teachers –– and one “asynchronous” day on Wednesday, reserved for work students’ teachers have given them. Mondays and Thursdays are considered “day one,” where students attend periods one through four, and Tuesdays and Fridays are “day two,” where students attend periods five, six and seven. 

This block schedule was made in an effort to reduce the time that kids are looking at their computer. 

“Our typical day when we’re face-to-face is 8:05 to 3:19, Monday through Friday,” Kenney said. “In an effort to minimize how much total screen time is going on, now, two days a week, you’re in school from 8:30 until 2:50, and the other day 9:50 to 2:50. That’s definitely a decrease.”

The schedule was created trying to satisfy both teacher and students. A seven period day, according to Patek, would give students a hectic day of switching in and out of many classes. 

“The whole idea is that it still provides the same instructional time, but kind of slows things down for students and slows things down for teachers,” Patek said. “[They get to] kind of say ‘Alright, let’s really focus in on what would be the greatest use of our 70-minute block of time,’ and avoid some of the feeling of like ‘Alright I just signed in, now I have to go sign in somewhere else.’”

It still provides the same instructional time, but kind of slows things down for students and slows things down for teachers.”

— Joseph Patek, assistant principal

There was also an effort in the development of the schedule to provide students with a chance to connect with their peers and teachers. 

“[The lunch period] is a great time to just be able to take a break from the screen, but it also affords time for kids to keep involved in other activities associated with the high school [and] not just the classes,” Kenney said.

Some students feel like 70 minutes are a long time to focus and tune in to an online class. 

“I’m not a huge fan of the 70 minute classes themselves because 70 minutes is a very long time to be learning, and especially when you’re at home it’s easy to get distracted and have trouble focusing,” said Leo Prosen-Oldani, junior. 

When you’re at home, it’s easy to get distracted and have trouble focusing.”

— Leo Prosen-Oldani, junior

Lisa McFarland, French teacher, can see both pros and cons of the schedule that is in place now versus a schedule closer to the one in a normal, face-to-face environment. 

“My daughter is in Whitefish Bay and she’s virtual here at home with me. They do those 7 periods a day. It seems like it’s working fine. I do feel for her because it is so much every day,” McFarland said. “I can see both sides because I know that for them having it every day is helpful and you get that repetition … [Between] Monday and Thursday is a long time separated from us, so that gives [students] more time to be like ‘What did we do?’ and myself included. So that would be definitely one of the downfalls.”

Although the classes are long, Prosen-Oldani can see where there are benefits to the new schedule, and appreciates them. 

“The benefit, I would say, would be that [the schedule] does come with some more freedom in every other aspect of my life,” Prosen-Oldani said. “For example, two of the days of the week I get to start later, [and] on Wednesday it’s just a pure work day, so that day I can structure it however I want.”

Kenney and Patek suggest that students try and problem solve with their teachers and counselors if the schedule isn’t working for them.

“If people are having a difficult time in class and they come right to me and Mr. Patek, our first response is going to be ‘Go back and talk to your teachers,’” Kenney said. “If you’re still having trouble beyond that, let me know and I can tell you what your next steps should look like.”

There will be surveys sent out in the coming months to gauge how students and families are feeling about online school, and Kenney encourages students to give their feedback through them. He hopes that students will voice their concerns as well as take action to optimize their virtual learning. 

“I’m not saying … ‘It’s up to the students to come forward or else they’re toast.’ That’s not the case at all,” Kenney said. “This is an opportunity for us to support students in really developing strong self-advocacy skills, because that’s just the environment that we’re in.”

Kenney and Patek feel that they found a good balance in this schedule for both teachers and students. They hope that teachers have time to prepare for class, and students aren’t overwhelmed with the amount of classes they have each day or the length of the school day. 

“We’re trying to find a healthy balance for everyone for staff and students, that it’s a system that is sustainable and that we can do for longer than a few weeks at a time that allows people to still feel like it’s not this chaotic, running from moment to moment every single day of the week,” Patek said.

There is still an understanding that it won’t always work for every student.

“As with anything, there’s pros and cons,” Patek said. “Some things work really well for some people, and some things work really not well for others –– in making shifts, you’re going to have the same thing happen.”