Wilton High School ran an eight-day test of its new block scheduling format from May 20-30 in preparation for its implementation next year. The new schedule has students attend four classes every day instead of seven, while also doubling the time for each class, from 45 minutes to 80-90 minutes. The new time format also introduces four lunch waves and miniature labs, referred to as “mini-labs,” for science classes.

A review of how the schedule test went is on tonight’s Board of Education meeting agenda (7 p.m. in the WHS Professional Library).

To take a closer look into the new block schedule, GOOD Morning Wilton‘s WHS senior intern Reed O’Brien spoke with school principal Robert O’Donnell to talk about the schedule’s trial run, and find out how it affected the students, teachers, faculty, and the general WHS environment.

O’Donnell explained that he wanted to try the new schedule because he thought it would be a good fit for WHS.

“I had experienced the block schedule in a former position and I felt there was great value in the schedule. We’ve had the sense that this school, with the current [seven-period] schedule, had a frantic pace and that there seemed to be times where students and teachers were rushing in classes to get teachings and assignments completed. Some members of the staff saw this as a problem and wanted to try something different. What we wanted to do was slow the school day down a bit, have fewer transitions, and create an environment where students and teachers could delve more deeply into learning.”

The trial run was an opportunity to see what problems might arise.

“I anticipated that there were some glitches that we ran into because the new schedule was not fit for the current one. For example, teacher assignments were critical since some teachers that taught all four blocks had substitutes come in so they could have time to rest. Other than that, the schedule has gone rather well,” O’Donnell says. “Right now we’re trying to get more feedback from both students and teachers to determine anything that needs to be adjusted. The feedback from staff is largely positive and is encouraging. There needs to be an instructional shift than just an 8 period day and the staff has learned and adapted very well.”

Getting the feedback is still an important and ongoing process. He hopes to hear from all parties that have concerns or thoughts to add.

“I have also talked to a lot of the students that I’ve seen in the hallways and class, and really at this point, it has been very positive, although I do want to be objective and not omit those who have different thoughts on the schedule. Some of them have wondered about double the amount of homework, which there is no intention of doing so and was started because of a supposed rumor, and to reduce homework load in different classes. But one of the things we want students to focus on is two to three classes a day rather than five or six. We don’t want students to decide between classes to study for or do work for since we know that students have very hefty and cumbersome lives outside of school, whether that be sports, work, or any other form of activity, but we also want them to manage their time so school work and studying can.”

The longer blocks will be an adjustment when it comes to attention span and endurance, O’Donnell acknowledges. The change also had some unanticipated impacts.

“Many students have also spoken up about paying attention during the 80-minute classes, and we are adjusting to it. Many students have said that they are fine with it, while there are still others that have difficulty with it, and we recognize students have different ways of learning and we have to tune the way teachers teach so that it is good for all students. It’s also good that students look at it as to how it impacts their social life. For example, there are few kids in the lunchroom to socialize with since we now have four lunch waves and the four lunch waves were designed so that we can balance the four 80-minute periods. I went down during one of these waves talking to kids and saw how light it was. Now to me, I see this as a good thing since more students have more room, that students can get through the lines faster, but I like the adolescent mindset, that ‘hey, I don’t have anyone to sit with’.”

One feature that got mixed reviews was the mini-labs for science.

“We tried out the science minis and we will continue the science minis into next school year, and the thinking there is that the science department teachers were considered about their instructional time and wanted to ensure they meet all kids science needs and desires. I am getting mixed feedback on this though,” says O’Donnell. “Some students have spoken with me and or that have asked about why we have minis in science classes and not other classes, and this is just insight as to why they are here.”

Some of the students were split about how they have a heavy schedule on one day–packed with core subjects like Math, English, and Science–and on the alternate days they may have an elective and multiple frees. O’Donnell addressed that as well.

“The intention for next school year in the master schedule is to balance the core subject areas. Let’s just assume that every student has class in all the five core subject areas, that being math, English, social studies, science, and world language. The intention of this is to have those be three and two, to have three be on one day and two on the other. That’s not always fully possible, with [some] kids having four and one, but we try to do with what they have. Some students, however, say that they enjoy having both an ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ day, as this always them to focus on harder classes over the course of two days. We want to keep all things balanced but sometimes we are unable to do that,” he explains.

Anyone who wants to know more about the block schedule, or provide feedback directly to school officials can attend the Board of Education meeting tonight, June 6, in the WHS Professional Library at 7 p.m..