Graphic by Kelly Cantarero-Flores
In August, a letter to students and their parents from Principal Martin announced that a 4×4 schedule would be used for distance learning. This plan means that typically year-long classes span a single semester only, and their curriculums are to fit in that adjusted format. This new arrangement has proven to be academically and emotionally strenuous, for a number of reasons.
First, we can start with how virtual school, in general, has taken a toll on mental health. It’s obvious that distance learning means isolation from our normal social lives, and that this new online environment can be far more draining than an average pre-pandemic school day. One takeaway I’ve had from the past nine months of quarantine is that computer-based learning is exhausting. I stare at a screen for upwards of seven hours every day, and that is way too much.
In addition to the stress that already accompanies this school year, the 4×4 schedule introduces new challenges. During in-person school, Wilson students had four four-period days a week, and one eight-period day. An ‘even-day’ class had homework assigned on a Tuesday, and since that class met again Thursday, students had two nights to complete their work. Now, since students attend all four of their classes every day, the cognitive gears must turn a lot faster. This is a drastic change. Most teachers keep us in class meetings throughout full synchronous periods, which are an hour and twenty minutes, and then assign additional homework. Our lives are becoming overrun by the dreaded “Due at 11:59 p.m.” to the point that many students, including myself, are having trouble keeping up a regular sleep schedule.
The academic aspect of the 4×4 schedule is impractical, rushed, and somewhat unreasonable. It is astonishingly clear that trying to teach a course that is meant to be a year long in a single semester comes with a host of problems. The first problem is straightforward: everything is moving far too quickly. As aforementioned, we have homework for each class every night. Several of my classes have unit assessments on a weekly basis! There is no advantage to all of these exams; we’re learning abbreviated content and retaining even less of it. People learn through practice, full comprehension, and fluid application. It is unwise to expect that adolescents can fully understand complicated math concepts in a span of two days to a week, especially if the time spent on them is more about getting the correct answer so that the class can move on (instead of developing a real grasp on the topic).
On a different note, there is a second adverse academic effect of the 4×4 schedule. When you think of two extremely valuable skills in anyone’s education, you likely think of reading and math. This year, however, some Wilson students may go a full four and a half months before their math or English class rolls around. That’s absurd. I’m enjoying a break from math, trust me, but reading skills and math skills alike require practice, dedication, and most importantly, they need to be solidified, or else they are not as strong in the future. We do summer reading and summer math assignments during the two months off of school, and now, students are going for an even longer period of time without the critical thinking required for English and math courses.
We’re all adapting to the new virtual atmosphere, and changes have been made to our school, our community, and our world. Yes, Wilson’s 4×4 schedule is definitely one method of acclimating to distance learning. But several months into the year, it’s easy to identify several serious issues with it. The first is that long hours on a screen and seemingly never-ending classwork negatively affect any student’s mental health. The other issues are more academic and logic based: classes are rushed and students go for half the year without immensely important core classes.
These problems don’t need to persist throughout the rest of the year, though. Some solutions to think about are more obvious than you might think. Students should always make sure that they are taking breaks from screens as often as possible, and getting outside. A big help from teachers is limiting how much of the synchronous block is spent on a Microsoft Teams call, which is an approach several have already implemented. Stopping between the 45 and 60 minute mark of class and allowing for independent work to take place within the period minimizes the excess homework. At the end of the day, we all have to make adjustments, and the 4×4 schedule requires some compromise. The pacing is less than ideal, but there are ways to work together through this change.