What might sound like every student’s dream – a school day with fewer classes – turned out to be less than exciting to returning Berkeley High School students last week. The familiar seven-period schedule has been reduced to six, but the school day is no shorter. In fact, for some it’s longer.
In addition to six new periods of 56 minutes, replacing seven 45-minute periods, many electives, like drama, art and journalism, are now offered only after and before school.
“Kids are at school longer now, sometimes until 4:00 p.m.,” said Arose, a senior.
The so-called “enhancement period” courses, taking place before and after the required “core” classes, are optional and open by student choice.
“We call it a six-period day, but, in reality, it’s an eight-period day,” said Berkeley Parent-Teacher Association President Derick Miller.
Instructional time in the new six-period day is roughly equivalent to that in the old seven period day, noted School Board Director Terry Doran.
The schedule change at the high school is part of the school district’s plan to balance a $6 million deficit for the coming fiscal year. Superintendent Michele Lawrence announced last year that the school district faced a possible takeover by the state if it was unable to reduce costs.
Lawrence said the schedule change will save the district $800,000.
Students had mixed reactions to the change during their first three days of school. Some were less than thrilled about the schedule, which for some, made the day drag on.
“They’ve made up a bunch of new rules, and the school day lasts longer,” said Danielle, a senior.
Other students said they encountered scheduling problems in the first days of school, but did not think the switch to a six-period system was to blame.
“This year is especially bad because they cut a bunch of classes and restructured the schedule,” said senior Rachel Most. “But it still feels pretty normal. I think there are problems like this every year.”
Even though the new system went into effect without any unforeseen problems, some were not convinced it made for a better learning environment.
“It’s more difficult to provide options if you’re restricted,” said Miller. “Having all the general classes in periods one through six and all the extra classes in periods zero and seven spreads everything out in an unnatural way.”
School Board President Shirley Issel mentioned the elimination of “gaps,” periods in which a student does not have any scheduled classes, as one of the benefits of the new six-period system. Berkeley High School recently adopted a formal policy against schedule “gaps,” for security reasons, according to Doran.
“There’s a requirement that students fill all gaps in their schedules first,” said Miller. “So if a student wants to take orchestra and AP science, which are offered in zero and seventh periods, he would have to fill all the gaps in between first.”
In contrast, Issel pointed out that the system was beneficial in that it enhanced the amount of time teachers spend in front of students.
“This allows us to put more emphasis on a common core, classes like English, history, science, and art,” said Issel. “There might be fewer classes but those that are offered will be better for all kids. It’s sort of a ‘less is more’ principle.”
Doran said that 30 different “enhancement period” sections were available, with space for 900 students to enroll. Since many sections had not met their enrollment capacity, Doran believed that all students got the classes they wanted.
“Most students were only taking classes for six of the seven periods, anyway,” he said. “Overall, the impact of the change was pretty minimal.”