What I DON’T Need

by Annika Engelbrecht, Opinions Writer
graphic by Emily Cheng

 On June 16th, I was greeted by a post from Denebola with the new school schedule on my Instagram feed. I glanced over the new schedule’s graphic and read their article before feeling a pit of dread settle over me. It was obvious my peers felt the same way; within the hour, angry and annoyed sentiments littered the comments section of the post. 

Even today, months later, I have yet to see a positive comment amidst the 162 remarks. Every aspect of the new schedule was being picked apart and criticized, from the new start/end times to the notoriously heavily meme-d “What I Need” (WIN) blocks. So, where did Newton Public Schools (NPS) go wrong? I believe that the problem lies in the limited communication between the administration and South families and students. 

The new schedule shifts the start and end times, which has been called for by opponents of the 7:40 a.m. start time; however, there are many complications that come with the delayed 9 a.m. beginnings. Similar to this past year, the new schedule’s late start means that school ends at 3:45 p.m.. Assuming athletics will continue to meet after school this year, the end times could directly translate to athletes having to practice in the dark, especially those participating in fall and winter sports. On top of regular practices, they will get home very late, providing less time for their school work. It also causes conflictions for students with part-time jobs, like me. The late end times mean I have fewer options to work during the week, which could force me to choose between my commitment to work and getting my homework done. The new schedule also affects parents, particularly those who work. 9:00 a.m. coincides with the typical start time for jobs, creating a hassle for working parents who had typically driven their kids to school. For students living too far from school to walk every day, taking the bus may not be a viable option due to the cost. The later start and end times affect thousands of families, yet after six models of  potential new schedules were drafted years ago by the administration, student and parent involvement lessened, and neither had an official part in the executive decision. 

While later start times alone seem problematic enough, WIN blocks are the biggest problem with the new schedule. WIN blocks are “assigned structured learning time with required attendance for all,” according to the district’s High School “Flex” Framework for 2021-2022. For the beginning of the school year, students will be designated a classroom for a directed study or help from a teacher. Although the people behind designing these blocks had good intentions, the execution is abysmal. Making students partake in activities that they have no interest in can abolish the students’ sense of freedom in school. Forcing students to meet with teachers wastes the time of the student and teacher equally, especially when students don’t feel the need to meet with teachers. The attendance requirement is the main issue for upperclassmen, who feel that it takes away their open campus privileges. Not only does the concept feel off, but the logistics seem faulty as well. Currently, students sign up for WIN blocks, which occur on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, on a Monday. This process will make it hard for students to receive the help they require if a problem arises during the week, as they would be unable to meet with their teachers because they have already signed up for a different activity during WIN block. Not getting help in time can affect a student’s grades and performance. While the administration did consider students’ opinions by surveying  families from 2017 to 2019, this was years prior to current high schoolers’ enrollment at South, so a different group of students than those surveyed will feel the effects.

Another element in the new schedule that adds little benefit is the Lion block. Unlike prior J and flex blocks, the new Lion block only meets once a week, which impacts students who are involved in more than one club. It calls for students to devote their time to merely one group or activity. It is unclear whether clubs can meet during other times like WIN blocks, because students have not received much information about this dilemma, reinforcing the overarching problem of the schedule debacle: a lack of communication. 

While it is an administrative decision, students should have had some say in it — they are, after all, the ones who are affected most by the schedule. I have not spoken to a single student who has said anything positive about the new plan, and two petitions were created by students asking for change in the new schedule, with one garnering 186 signatures and counting. Behind these signatures are unsatisfied students and families, and when the community sees flaws in nearly every aspect of the schedule, there is a definite need for change.