Jacob Radin (Co-Sponsor of The Lantern) - May 26, 2021 - The four-day school week needs to stay
Everyone has seen pictures of the old rickety one-room schoolhouse from yesteryear. Students were shoved in rows, and the teacher would come up from behind his or her desk to teach the class various lessons on arithmetic, science, and literature. Sound pretty familiar, right? The schoolhouse itself may have grown in size; chalk and pencils may have made way for laptops and well, still pencils; but when it comes down to it, school has remained essentially the same, give or take some changes in technology. Who says you have nothing in common with your grandparents?
The past year has been as pleasant as a mouthful of ants, yet that doesn’t mean we should ignore it. Spit those ants into a jar and start your own ant farm, some kid somewhere will love it. Hybrid learning has been challenging, overwhelming and for many of us, maybe even less enjoyable than critters on your tongue. However, if we clear away the mound of sand that produced those ants and caused this year to be so chaotic, we can see the future - the four-day school week.
Many parents reading this right now are likely to throw their phone into a nearby pond out of frustration of the mere suggestion of such a thing (ok, maybe they’ll just back out of the story), but learning doesn’t always take place in a classroom. In fact, most learning takes place outside of it and far away from it. The four-day school week is the opportunity that schools, communities, and their students need in order to make that leap of change. How so? The fifth day.
The average school day takes learning and places various constraints on it much like Houdini used to do to himself back when school was old-fashioned and basic. There are obvious time restraints, class-size restraints, as well as limited space for every lesson. The fifth day of a four-day school week is where the magic can happen. As a school we could use this possibility to build new and exciting opportunities for students by working with the community to create internships, shadowing, and possible chances to work toward gaining outside experience and knowledge of potential careers. So many students go to college or join the workforce doing things that they thought they wanted, but in the long run, realize that they want something else. Making those realizations after a couple of years of life after high school can be costly, especially if the majority of those classes or experiences do not apply to the new directions individuals may choose to take.
We know that the fifth day works well for virtual learning for certain students and certain ages. The ability to learn in a self-paced setting away from a normal classroom environment benefits not all, but many students. As colleges and universities continue to do more virtually through online classes, this is a chance for students to hone the skills that are necessary in the modern world. Not only in higher education but the workforce as well shows signs that the traditional work environment is changing and the ability to communicate and collaborate effectively via online resources is vital. It also can work well with the flipped classroom model that is a helpful learning strategy for many.
In addition to virtual learning though, this fifth day offers the high school the opportunity to offer additional weekly courses that meet for three hours much as many college courses do. This way students can earn additional credits. How about that, overachievers?
It also offers teachers the opportunity for teachers to collaborate with other teachers to create content and lessons to bring a variety of subjects together. In my film as literature class, we study the impact of film score as a narrative element Now imagine combining that with the knowledge of a music teacher to connect two completely different fields of content. This not only helps students learn in new ways, but it also allows teachers from different content areas to share skills and ideas with one another.
There are a multitude of subjects that students want to learn about as well. This is an opportunity to provide those chances to learn about those subjects. Think Life Skills 101: from changing a tire, understanding student loan debt, purchasing a home, paying taxes, etc. Yes, students, even taxes! (I have no idea why every student tells me they wish we’d taught them more about paying taxes. That sounds horribly boring, but sometimes you’ve got to give the people what they want.)
For freshmen and sophomores, WHS has focused on using CORE time to emphasize its life-ready initiative to show students how to be more well rounded and prepared for life after high school. The possibility of going beyond short 20-30 minute lessons could be hugely beneficial to this program. Students can have more chances of getting to know their senior mentors, and various speakers can come in to share their life experiences with students. Ultimately, there is so much more that can be done with this time to benefit students. (I haven’t even mentioned how this can benefit clubs and student involvement!)
In addition, the fifth day has provided my colleagues and me with numerous opportunities for collaboration, learning, and growth this school year. As teachers, we’ve had time to discuss what works and does not work in the classroom for our students. Not to point out the obvious, like it’s a bad idea to drink a gallon of hot sauce in one sitting, but the point of school is the students. Having moments to discuss their learning and how to improve it is extremely valuable, and unfortunately, there is not always a time that’s available for it. Late-start Wednesdays and the occasional teacher-work day do not properly allow for teachers to really work together to come up with ways to improve student learning in a variety of subjects across the board. They help, but much like when a cartoon character attempts to keep a drowning boat afloat by using a bucket, it’s only a temporary solution and it’s only a matter of time before it can’t keep up. Like that cartoon character, we need to fill that hole to prevent leaking. That way we can focus on the students more clearly without the risk of not having enough time and finding ourselves without a boat. The fifth day has allowed for many boats to stay above water when they might not have been able to do so.
The possibilities of what can be done with the fifth school day are as unlimited as the imaginations of our staff and students. From a young age, children are taught that trying new things is how to grow, yet schools often seem unwilling to try new things themselves. It can be scary, it can result in a lot of frustration for everyone involved, especially if things are not perfect from the beginning, but nothing truly groundbreaking is an instant earthquake. I’ve said the word opportunity a lot in this piece because, ultimately that is what we have: an opportunity, an opportunity to go against the status quo to try and take education out of the 19th century and beyond the 21st. Four days 4-ever, the flexible fifth day.