Foreign High Schools Offer Unique Schedules

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Wall Street Journal

High School in the United States are becoming incrasingly more stressed

Julian King, Contributor

A common sentiment among students at CHS is a general sense of unhappiness stemming from the current schedule.

“I need a longer, open lunch!” pleas one student.

“I don’t have enough time to finish my homework!” cries another.

For any number of reasons, students want change, but what changes ought to be made?

“Lunch is a critical time to catch up on any work and it’s really our only break during the day! We have a 4 minute transition period, but with classes on opposite sides of the school, it’s nearly impossible to make it from one side to the other, without being marked late, let alone have a cram session, when am I supposed to review?” said CHS senior Elshaddai Siressa. “There’s simply not enough time.”

One alternative comes from France. Students attend classes from 8 a.m. to 4:30 or 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, with a 2 and a half-hour lunch from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. On Wednesdays, however, students only attend classes until noon, having the rest of the day free to go home or work.

Despite this seemingly longer schedule, French students actually spend 4 hours less in the classroom per week, yet outrank the United States by 3 points according to World Population Review’s Education Ranks by Country.

“It’s very aggravating that European students seem to spend less time in school, yet are doing much better mental health-wise,” said senior Yanel Seka. “At first the schedule looks a bit odd, but I feel like the extra time during lunch would really allow for students to recover from the stress from the first half of the day. You could eat better, nap, catch up on work, or just take a breather.”

Another alternative schedule comes from our northern neighbors in Canada. In one Toronto suburb, school runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with 4 classes a day, each lasting for around 75 minutes, with an hour-long lunch.

“I can’t even imagine how stressed I’d be with [the MCPS] system, that’s far too busy. Longer periods mean that we have time to complete most of our homework in class, meaning only a couple of hours at home, and less stress overall,” said senior Colin Bracken of Richmond Hill High School in Ontario, Canada.

There is, in fact, some truth behind this argument. According to the American Psychological Association, 51% of U.S. teens report having felt ‘extremely stressed’, with 34% reporting that they think their stress will only increase in the following year. Compare that to only around 20% of students in Canada according to a study done by McMaster University. But this mystifying system is not completely without reason, and there are those who support it.

“The 8 to 3 time-frame works best because that’s around the time that most people’s parents have to get up and go to work, so while they’re away, the kids are someplace safe. It also gives highschoolers enough time to get home and watch younger siblings or go to sports practice,” said social studies teacher Daniel Mulcahy. “An 8 a.m. wake up time mirrors college classes and work life, and with a semester schedule, if you had an AP class first semester you’d probably not be prepared for the test by the time it rolled around in the spring.”

While the opposing argument is not completely without reason, however many students feel that the cons greatly outweigh the pros.

“I am sympathetic to the fact that unlike students, most working adults don’t go home with an extra 6 hours of work every day, and you’re consuming a lot more information per day too,” said Mulcahy. “As a sociology teacher, I do understand that mental health and quality of life outrank everything else. Any system that would allow us to increase educational output and improve students’ quality of life would be best.”

There seems to be at least some consensus on either side that in one way or another, the current school schedule for CHS students is flawed, so what’s the response? Drop half the school day on Wednesdays? Increase lunches by an hour? Start school later? Extend class length to 75 minutes?

“I think ideally we could drop to a 5 or 6-period schedule, stretch lunch to an hour, and have more time per class, with an optional extra period or study hall for students that want to study or learn more. This would decrease the per student workload while allowing for more time during the best hours of the day to get it done,” said Seka. “We would start and end later, but overall, students would have more free time to relax and sleep. Little sacrifices, but ones that would greatly increase the quality of student life”.