Verbum Dei High School recently changed its class schedule to accommodate the First Semester Parent/Teacher Conferences, and the one-week shortened class schedule resonated with a positive reception from students.
The schedule sequence was Periods One and Two; break; Periods Three through Five; lunch, and concluded with Periods Six and Seven. Apart from having three consecutive periods in the middle of the day, another change for the schedule was the class length: instead of 55-minute duration, the classes were shortened to 50-minutes. The net result was a 2:35 P.M. dismissal, rather than the usual 3:25 P.M. dismissal.
It begs the question, if the VDHS administration can accommodate all seven periods and still dismiss students at 2:35 P.M. with the limited sacrifice of five minutes per class – which seems like a reasonable sacrifice – then why not institute that as the regular schedule throughout the year?
A little background offers perspective. In the 2015-2016 school year, there were six periods with Homeroom at the beginning and end of regular schedule days with dismissal at 2:50 P.M.. At the start of the following school year, an extra period was added to the schedule, and many students did not embrace the idea.
“I was mad; the schedule was perfect the way it was,” commented senior Omar García on the addition of a seventh period. “If it isn’t broken there’s no need to fix it.”
The rationale for the expansion of the school day was the local lack of availability of supplemental SAT preparation opportunities. Verb students were attending SAT prep courses at Watts Health Center, 10300 Compton Avenue, Los Angeles.
“As charter schools increased in the neighborhood,” explained Dr. Brandi Odom Lucas, Chief Academic Officer, “the number of our students [able] to get in there and thus have an SAT prep got lower.”
Verbum Dei administration sought to find a way to offer a free SAT preparation program for all Verbum Dei students, so it added an extra period dedicated to the Second Semester implementation of that program; as originally conceived this addition delayed dismissal schoolwide until 3:25 P.M. As a consequence, the remaining grade levels have different accommodations for the seventh period in their school day: College Access Program for seniors, Homework; Enrichment; Reading; Organization (HERO) for sophomores and juniors in the First Semester, and Freshman Bridge for ninth grade.
The short-lived Parent/Teacher Conference schedule is a better solution to fit a seven-period class schedule into the regularly-scheduled school day. Furthermore, the earlier dismissal allows more time for students to access their teachers’ office hours.
Verbum Dei High School teachers are contractually obligated to stay after school until 3:45 P.M. Strictly speaking, that is a mere 20 minutes beyond the current dismissal. Although many Verb faculty members stay beyond their contractual obligations, teachers are permitted to leave campus at 3:45.
“In the past students just left,” said Odom about the prospect of students utilizing office hours. She mentioned the possibility of developing a “system to create to ensure that students are actually going to office hours.”
Odom did not necessarily rule out the idea of making the change of schedule if it were to benefit students with office hours.
“Maybe if there was a system, a shift among the students of really utilizing the help when they need it I would be more inclined to do that,” said Odom. “The students will have to show me that they go get the help when they need it.”
Although the Chief Academic Officer does have a valid point about students not going to office hours, teachers such as Timothy Moore, Mathematics Department Chair and teacher of various math classes, said that students regularly go to his office hours. Other teachers’ office hours are utilized by the student body as well.
“On average I have anywhere between 10 to 15 students coming into my office hours,” says Moore. “All students find office hours useful.”
Verb students do attend office hours, and they do find such additional help useful. An impromptu, after-dismissal walk down the 200 Corridor will regularly reveal freshmen and sophomores students from Spanish teacher Jovanni Gonzalez’ classes getting help as well.
Not only will the dismissal at 2:35 extend the availability of office hours, but students will also be able to do homework in the additional, non-instructional time.
“There would be a lot more time to do the work they get, especially with seven classes,” said senior Christopher Poz. Poz deals with transportation issues, and this decreases the time he has available to do homework once he arrives home.
Administration believes that each special schedule has its inherent benefits: the Liturgy schedule allows for the celebration of schoolwide masses; the Monday schedule affords time for faculty and staff meetings; the Friday schedule offers students time for participation in clubs (which contributes to the strength of students’ college applications); occasional Speaker and Rally schedules contribute to school spirit and provide for shared experiences.
A Regular Schedule dismissal at 2:35 P.M. has its benefits as well and would allow students and parents beneficial options: it would allow students to seek assistance from extended office hours; it would allow parents the opportunity to schedule late-afternoon conferences; it would permit students to get an on-campus, after school start on homework, or it would permit students to arrive home earlier, providing the dedication of more at-home time for schoolwork.
It is time to reconsider the Regular Schedule, and particularly, the 3:25 P.M. dismissal.