For many of us, time is our greatest resource, and for a school, how it uses its time with its schedule reflects its values and vision. Starting in 2016, Park’s Strategic Plan set forth on a path to become a more student-centered school by increasing opportunities for applied learning and social-emotional learning. To better understand how to achieve those goals, the School began an in-depth analysis and revision of the schedule. Two years ago, Park worked with an independent school consultant to analyze the current schedule in terms of its student-centeredness.
Taking those results, Caroline Beasley and Matt Kessler (Secondary School Counselor who has extensive experience with scheduling), led a task force to evaluate faculty feedback and the viability of the proposals. They then designed a student-centered schedule for Park that is characterized by both structure and flexibility. This schedule provides increased opportunities for student choice, differentiation, teacher collaboration, and flexibility that will allow for more student-centered instruction, curriculum and assessment. When school opens next fall, every student from PreK to Grade 8 will have a new schedule.
It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?
– Henry David Thoreau
Lower Division Changes
For Park’s youngest students, an important change is moving recess before lunch. This shift will allow students time to socialize before they arrive in the Dining Room. At lunch, they can focus on eating and return to their classrooms calmer and ready to learn. In addition to this change, the new schedule has longer periods for math and literacy. There are also blocks of time that are shared by the entire grade that will allow grade-level teachers to consider ways to create flexible groupings and cross-grade collaboration. Overall, we tried to minimize transitions and decrease small chunks of time when designing the new schedule. Lower Division teachers will find that they can continue to offer excellent academic programming but with a schedule that allows for more uninterrupted learning. Lastly, the Lower Division Community Time (currently on Friday morning) will move to Tuesday afternoon, providing an opportunity for all Lower Division students to close out the day together.
Upper Division Changes
In the Upper Division, the schedule has been redesigned to allow for more interdisciplinary learning – math, science, English, and social studies classes will take place concurrently during the same period. Two 50-minute periods can be reconfigured in multiple ways: teachers can easily work together to create double-periods for more in-depth instruction in a single subject, combine two sections for interdisciplinary projects (e.g. Social Studies and science or English and math), or create opportunities for two, three, or four sections to come together for highly-customized differentiation based upon student needs. The inherent flexibility requires collaboration between teachers to best maximize opportunities for interdisciplinary pairings and personalized instruction, and we’ve built in time for grade-level collaboration to make sure that it happens! This new structure will allow for more engaging, authentic, project-based assessments, such as the Grade 6 House Project and the Grade 8 Model United Nations Conference on Clean Water. These types of projects will provide students with meaningful opportunities to exhibit their mastery of content and skills. Additionally, the new schedule is designed to provide for increased instructional hours, from 97 to 120 hours in these four classes, and 110 hours for language instruction.
New Arts Electives
Meeting early adolescents’ need for choice, we are introducing visual and performing arts electives to allow students to flourish in a new way. Grade 5, Grades 6 and 7, and Grade 8 will each have their own catalog of opportunities providing students the opportunity to explore new genres while also focusing on individual interests in music, drama, visual art, and the media arts. This approach will elevate the arts at Park by giving students agency to focus their energy and pursue their passions.
Time For Social-Emotional Learning
Lastly, all students in the Upper Division will have a Social-Emotional Learning period on Tuesday afternoons to include and combine elements of Advisory and Growth Education, enabling students to gather in a variety of ways. Teachers and advisors will have the time they need to best support and engage students in the essential social, emotional, and academic work of self-awareness, self-advocacy, group collaboration, communication, and reflection.
Taking on a new schedule is an exciting, albeit heavy lift. Throughout this school year, we will be working alongside Park teachers to fine tune plans for the schedule’s first year, as well as how to best prepare students and parents for the exciting changes that lie ahead.