by The Editorial Board
We’ve hardly been through three semesters of the new schedule, and its negative impacts on the schoolwide community have become impossible to ignore. Thanks to the pandemic, we’ve had four different school schedule formats in the span of three years. The schedule we’ve landed on had been in the works for years until the pandemic finally provided an opportunity to start anew.
Even amidst the backdrop of pandemic-induced social isolation and declines in mental well-being, Newton Public Schools failed to reevaluate and improve the school’s support for student connection and mental health.
With a single advisory each week, three class meeting times per week, a 9 a.m. start time and new Lion and WIN Blocks, the schedule’s format strips students of the opportunities to connect that our seniors remember as freshmen.
Rather than solicit the feedback of students, teachers and families, over a year and a half later, NPS has failed to solve problems with the schedule. Just listening to students and teachers would make worlds of difference for both students’ mental health and the South community as a whole.
Let’s start with Monday morning advisory. While the vast majority of underclassmen and juniors who attended our editorial meeting indicated that they do not feel connected to their advisories, the seniors in the room still remembered the three five-minute blocks and one 25-minute block we attended as freshmen.
As freshmen, current seniors saw brand-new classmates often and for shorter blocks of time. Even if they spent that time sitting on our phones or catching up on schoolwork, the few minutes of near-daily facetime stoked connection. We’d nod at each other in the hall, and advisory became that familiar place for us to catch our breath in the rush of the school day.
Now, for just a 20-minute block once a week, students spend their advisory time signing up for WINs, filling out “school connectedness surveys” (see the irony?), listening to powerpoints presented by deans, practicing safety drills and even attending guidance seminars intermittently throughout the year.
Supposedly, advisory is a student’s most immediate source of community, topping the list of student supports cited in The Program of Studies. Advisories, the school claims, provide students a place to “get to know one another and a teacher,” “provide support for one another” and “have fun together by playing games and relaxing.” Clearly, that description is now passé, with advisory now having been transformed into a catch-all time for administrative tasks.
Moving on to the rest of our classes during the day, there is a similar pattern of scheduling fewer classes for longer periods of time, clearly a deliberate change to the approach to learning. Meeting fewer times per week might give students more time to complete nightly homework, but it also strips students of frequent facetime with classmates and teachers. There’s less of an opportunity to build those connections we yearned for during Zoom school when we only see an elbow buddy every other day, rather than every day.
Perhaps most relevant to The Roar is the incredibly limited time set aside for clubs to meet. With the new “Orange” and “Blue” weeks, the school allots just one 50 minute block every two weeks for each club to meet. In response to student concerns, the school’s only solution in the “South Schedule Student FAQ“ document in September 2021 was that clubs could find time to meet outside of school, before or after.
It’s true that clubs can decide to meet every Lion Block, but that restricts opportunities for students to try out other clubs and activities and to meet students who share their interests. And that is ultimately how we build connections and foster opportunities for students to feel like they belong in the student body of 1,850, where it’s easy to feel lost in the crowd.
By its nature, change is hard, and as a newspaper constantly trying to be at the forefront, we understand that better than most. We cover controversy in reforming the city’s zoning laws, debates about the tax override and the political opposition to changing Columbus Day to recognize Indigenous people, but we’ve given this new schedule a chance.
We’ve approached it with an open mind for the last year and a half, and we’re telling you, it’s not working. To truly recreate the interpersonal connections that we formed pre-pandemic, we need to see our classmates as often as possible.
North and South’s administration and the School Committee must meet to consider making changes to the schedule and solicit students and teachers’ voices, because we are the most affected. We must take this opportunity to have these conversations before the seniors — the only ones who’ve known anything different — graduate. We can work towards a more connected school environment.
As Principal Stras said in an August 20, 2021 interview in preparation for the schedule’s implementation, “Part of launching something successfully is constantly monitoring it, constantly assessing it and then looking at the feedback to see what can make it better. We’re looking consciously and intentionally at what practices we have on hand on the social-emotional side of things and what we can do proactively to ensure that you have the right skills needed to be successful. That’s not just academic, it’s social and emotional, [and] all of those things go along with it.”