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HUNT COLUMN: A chip off the old block

By Cathy Hunt
Chairwoman, Troup County Board of Education

When our high school classes get underway next week, teachers and students will have to adjust to a new daily schedule. But it’s an “old” new schedule: the block.

Our schools first used block schedule starting about two decades ago. It was a way for students to earn eight credits in a year instead of six, at a time when graduation requirements were increasing. Instead of six year-long 55-minute classes, students take four 90-minute classes the first semester and four different ones the next. The high school principals, all of whom had experience with the block, saw many reasons to bring it back.

Though I can’t remember why, we returned to the six-period day shortly before I retired. Soon after, a seventh period was added. Again, six periods didn’t leave much room for electives or remediation. However, seven periods mean a bigger student/ preparation load and less planning time for teachers, and more subjects and homework for students.

When it comes to the block, both teachers and students are leery of long class periods. I was too when I had to make the adjustment. But I quickly understood the secret of success: I would change gears at least every 30 minutes. English class has room for many sub-topics: grammar, writing, speech, literature, vocabulary. And when it was time to transition to another topic, we would all take a minute to stand up and stretch.

Students say they’ll be bored and sleepy. Well, teachers must certainly reimagine their lesson plans and try to keep students engaged, but students have to discipline themselves to do their

part. Teachers are not there to entertain, to keep students laughing and moving; teenagers shouldn’t have to be coddled that way.

Block scheduling is terrific for students who love band, chorus, art, PE, science labs, or CTAE

classes. Won’t it be great to keep singing, dancing, painting, playing, building, and working on other projects for well over an hour? Most students, if they do not fall behind in other areas, should be able to take their special elective both semesters.

A question has arisen about the possibility of not having AP class in the same semester (spring) as the exam. That is not ideal, but the registrars will make every effort to strategically schedule these classes, and even if you have to take one first semester, the principals will arrange review days prior to the test in the spring. I loved teaching A.P. English on the block for reasons too numerous to cover in this space. With all my classes, having fewer total students enabled me to better cultivate relationships, plan lessons, and grade papers.

My biggest concern about the block is the loss of continuity in math classes. Again, I hope our instructional leaders are strategic about how to close those gaps.

I asked my grown daughters about their experiences with the block. The older one had only the block experience, and she liked having fewer classes as well as the “deep dive” learning that can happen in longer sessions. The younger one had two years on the block and two with six periods, and says she liked block much better, especially because time in theater class was much more productive. They both liked starting fresh in January with new teachers and different classmates.

Another good reason for going back to block in this time of Covid: with fewer classes and

transition times, students have fewer contacts each day. This will be helpful when it comes to wellness and quarantining.

Here’s to making the most of new opportunities in a new school year!