Change can be unsettling in the best of circumstances. But the students and teachers of Atholton and Howard high schools are tackling the problems associated with change and proving that it can also bear fruit. By switching from a six- to a four-period day, students and teachers at the two schools report good feelings about the new schedule, including the opportunity for students to take more electives and the challenge to teachers to teach more effectively.
The two schools accomplish this in different ways. At Howard High, the schedule calls for four 86-minute classes and a 30-minute lunch period. This allows students to take four subjects the first half of the year and four different courses the second half. At Atholton High, students alternate three 90-minute classes one day with three different classes the next. They also have one 55-minute class that is the same daily. Lunch is 45 minutes.
More than the schedules themselves, the comments of those involved tell the story. A 16-year-old junior says she likes switching subjects daily: "You get tired of the same teachers." Another student says the new schedule will discourage absences because "you're going to have to come back and read hundreds of pages."
Teachers were impressed by the hurdles that confronted them. Said a science instructor: "There's nothing worse than doing the same thing for the same 90 minutes. You just won't be able to do a lab, a follow-up and assign homework. Now you have to do a lab, a follow-up, a review or an introduction to a new concept and then homework."
The bottom line is that students spend more time in each content area and are able to take more courses than under the traditional six-period schedule. The four-period schedule is also being attempted at several other public schools in the Baltimore area.
Instead of touting year-round schools, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the officials who support that idea need to examine ways to improve instruction at no extra cost and at a fraction of the disruption. In fact, according to James McGowan, a Howard associate superintendent, the county may have saved money by moving to a four-period day. Rather than hire additional teachers for new elective courses, the electives can be offered using existing staff. That makes four-period scheduling a potential win-win situation.