A Change of Pace
"The exploration around our new daily schedule began the same way we approach all of our decisions as a school - with our students at the center," said Head of School Dr. Priscilla Sands.
Students returning to Marlborough this fall were sure to notice on big change from last year - a new daily schedule.
The school's previous modified block schedule, implemented in 2011, had gone through a few iterations since that time, but Head of School Dr. Priscilla Sands saw an opportunity for thoughtful review.
"The exploration around our new daily schedule began the same way we approach all of our decisions as a school - with our students at the center," said Dr. Sands.
In 2018, a Faculty Scheduling Committee was formed to work with consulting group Independent School Management (ISM) to review the daily bell schedule.
"Through the schedule review process, we realized that we needed to design a schedule that improved learning opportunities, addressed student wellness, and provided more time for community activities," said Associate Head of Academics and Director of Upper School Dr. Laura Hotchkiss '86.
With these goals in mind, ISM then worked with the Faculty Scheduling Committee, Academic and Educational Councils, and Student Academic Advisory Committee to learn about the student and faculty experience and time needs. They also collaborated with the faculty to create a schedule that included a "healthy start," consistent and evenly distributed class times, and built-in community time.
Rise & Shine
When approaching a new schedule, the Faculty Scheduling committee made it a priority to shift the day's start time 35 minutes later to allow students more time to transition into their day.
"We looked at the research about how, in adolescence, the circadian rhythm actually shifts to be a little later, which makes it harder for them to wake up in the morning," explains Dr. Marisa Crandall, Director of Educational and Counseling Services. "It takes a longer amount of time for them to come to cognitive efficiency after waking up because they will have all this sleep-inducing hormone in their body."
By moving the first class from 7:55 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., students now have a bit more flexibility with their mornings. Some students are able to use that time for extra sleep, while others use it to eat breakfast, meet with teachers, or visit with friends.
Marlborough now also provides some structured wellness opportunities before class starts fro both students and faculty, including weekly yoga, meditation and HIIT (high-intensity interval training) classes taught by Marlborough coaches and teachers.
History & Social Science Instructor and Dean of Faculty Helen Mendoza has already noticed the Healthy Start's positive effect on her seventh-grade students.
"It definitely made a difference in how ready they are to start the school day," shares Ms. Mendoza. "They've got that time to settle in, socialize, play, and do homework, so they seem less tired when class starts."
Another goal of the revised schedule was to create a predictable pace by distributing class time more evenly through the week and provide consistent class times each day.
The previous schedule used a five-day rotation with 75-minute classes on Mondays and Tuesdays and 55-minute classes Wednesdays through Fridays. This year's schedule alternates between purple days and white days, with all classes lasting 70-minutes and class times remaining the same through the week.
By keeping the class times consistent, students are better able to focus on preparing for class instead of worrying about what class is next.
Classes are also more evenly distributed throughout the day, with only the afternoon classes scheduled back-to-back. This ensures students don't have three hours of class in a row on any given day.
"The pace of the day has made a big difference," added Mendoza. "OIt's more relaxed. Students seem less stressed, because they're not literally running from one class to another."
The pacing has also allowed students to better plan for their weeks, balancing their homework and extracurricular schedule, as no class will meet two days in a row.
Consistent Community Time
Marlborough continues to provide educational programming around the core value of community, including All-School Meetings, class meetings, Advisory, guest speakers, workshops, and other special events.
When surveyed, both students and faculty responded that they wanted more time for these activities, so creating consistent community time became another goal of the new schedule.
There is now a designated 40-minute Community block followed by a 20-minute break after the first, morning class every day.
By pairing Community time and break, there is more flexibility in the use of time for community presentations or discussions that may need a full hour instead of 40-minutes without shifting the schedule or taking time away from class. For instance, The Renfrew Center has been able to utilize the hour to speak with students at class meetings, and students have used the full hour for all-campus events like Club Fair and celebrating International Day of the Girl.
The community time provides students the flexibility to use that block in a way that benefits their unique needs that day. They have a cognitive break in the day where they can transition between classes, work on homework, meet with a teacher or classmate, or simply relax, replenish, and reset.
Community and break time benefits teachers as well. Having this time in the day allows teachers to have more conversations with students and colleagues, resulting in more collaboration cross classes and departments.
In October, California became the first state to mandate later public school start times, requiring middle schools to start classes no earlier than 8:00 a.m., and high schools no earlier than 8:30 a.m. The law, to be implemented by the 2022 school year, is designed to increase academic performance, attendance, and general student health by providing the opportunity for students to get more sleep.
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