June 29, 2020
Dear Emmaus High School Families.
I write today to provide you with information regarding student scheduling at Emmaus High School for the 2020-2021 school year. As you know, teams of district stakeholders are working now to develop a comprehensive health and safety plan that will allow all EPSD students to return to school in the fall – with precautions and restrictions – as required by the PA Department of Education.
The scheduling process in any high school is very involved. Once student course requests have been entered, several weeks of intensive work is required to build a schedule that can accommodate as many of those requests as possible. We were fortunate to have completed the student course request process prior to the closure in March. In consultation with our district lead administrators, and in consideration of the factors that we will be facing in the fall due to the pandemic, we have begun to build a schedule that we believe will best meet the educational, social/emotional, and safety needs of our students in 2020-2021.
Over the course of the 19-20 school year, a district “Use of Time Team” was assembled to examine our schedule at EHS, which has not been substantially revised in decades. We reviewed research on instructional best practice, our district’s mission and vision for teaching and learning as reflected in our comprehensive plan, and surveyed students, staff, and K-12 parents about their needs and priorities relative to a schedule. The committee then developed a decision-making matrix based on our stakeholders’ priorities and evaluated our 9-period schedule, as well as some schedules from other high-performing schools, using that matrix. This month, the committee recommended to the Superintendent and Board of School Directors that we replace our 9-period schedule with a block schedule. When the pandemic threat has subsided and we are able to return to fully “normal” schedules and procedures (anticipated 21-22 school year), we will move to what is called a “modified” or “A/B” block schedule. Below are some resources if you are interested in exploring them:
- The slides from our presentation to the Board of School Directors in June
- The video of the Board of School Directors Meeting at which the block schedule was presented and discussed
- The results of the stakeholder survey we conducted in December, 2019
The 20-21 School Year
Although our initial plans were to implement a block schedule beginning in the 21-22 school year, we have decided that doing so sooner will position us to best support our students’ educational, social/emotional and safety needs during the continued pandemic crisis. Next year, we will implement a block schedule and will use a “semester” rather than an “A/B” format. The details of this schedule are provided below, along with a timeline as to when individual student schedules will be available for your review.
What is a semester block schedule?
In a semester block schedule, students attend a maximum of four classes per day, which are longer in duration than on a traditional schedule. One-credit courses run for one semester (two marking periods) instead of a full year. Half credit courses run for one marking period instead of one semester. Quarter credit classes (like physical education) run every day for 4.5 weeks.
What are the benefits of a block schedule?
Some of the benefits of a semester block schedule are listed below:
- Students are able to focus on fewer classes at one time and explore concepts within those courses in greater depth.
- Students spend more intensive time in classrooms with their teachers and the number of students with whom teachers interact in a single day is cut in half. This provides opportunities for teachers to build stronger relationships with students as they get to know them as individuals and as learners.
- Fewer transitions throughout the day result in more time for instruction.
- Longer class periods enable teachers to implement research-based instructional strategies and extended opportunities for students to collaborate with others and engage in hands-on activities/labs.
Why move to a semester block schedule next year?
Student and Staff Safety –
- The most up-to-date, research-based guidance provided to school districts by the PA Department of Education recommends the use of block scheduling as a means of reducing the risks of transmitting COVID-19. Reducing the number of class periods per day:
- Reduces the number of individuals with whom students and staff interact daily
- Reduces the number of transitions during which large numbers of individuals are in hallways and restrooms at the same time
- Limits the sharing of books, supplies, and materials between students
- Fiscal challenges associated with the pandemic required the district to reduce some teaching positions to balance the budget. Moving sooner to the block schedule allows us to accommodate these cuts without increasing class size, thanks to some organizational efficiencies associated with the change.
Educational Impact –
- It is likely that schooling will continue to be disrupted next year, as we all continue to manage the circumstances surrounding the pandemic. If it is necessary for students to learn partially or fully online for any period of time next year, the block schedule will ensure that they are not required to manage all of their courses at the same time. It also allows them to start fresh in the second semester with a new set of courses. This will be especially beneficial for those who choose to pursue a full online option in the first semester and wish to transition back to the building in the second semester.
Won’t it be difficult for students to “sit through” long classes?
When schools move to block scheduling, students and parents are sometimes concerned that students will spend these longer class periods sitting at their desks, receiving instruction from the teacher and taking notes. This is what we call “direct instruction.” Direct instruction does still happen in a block schedule environment, but rarely if ever for the entire class period. In a block schedule classroom, emphasis is placed on: variation of activities; active student engagement/collaboration; and extended time for students to practice new skills and receive feedback from the teacher while doing so. In preparation for and throughout the school year next year, EHS teachers will engage in professional learning to support their transition to this approach.
What would my child’s schedule look like and how does that compare to a 9-period schedule?
What about students who attend LCTI?
Students who attend LCTI will still be able to participate in half or full day programs, and will be able to complete graduation requirements in the same manner as they do now.
What about AP courses?
Many successful high schools offer AP courses on a block schedule and we have learned quite a bit through discussions with them. Our AP classes in the science department will increase in credit value to run for 3 marking periods at 1.5 credits (AP Environmental Science and AP Physics 1,2 and C) or a full year at 2.0 credits (AP Chemistry and AP Biology) to accommodate the extensive labs that are included in those courses. In other departments, AP courses that run in the first semester will include follow-up workshops during semester 2 to help students retain the information and prepare for the exam. Likewise, AP courses that run in the second semester may include ramp-up workshops/activities before the courses begin to ensure coverage of necessary content & material prior to the AP exams in May.
What is the scheduling timeline this summer? When will I know what courses my child is scheduled for? Will we have the opportunity to request changes once we receive it?
We are currently building the master schedule and expect to complete that process by the end of July. Once the schedules are complete, they will be shared with students and their families for review. We will accept requests to make changes in August before school starts, and will provide information about that process when schedules are released.
We realize that this communication includes significant new information, and appreciate your patience and understanding as we work to craft a schedule for next year that will best meet the educational, social/emotional, and safety needs of our students. We ask that, for now, you allow us the time to build the schedule and assure you that there will be time in August to discuss any concerns, questions, or change requests you may have with your counselor and/or Assistant Principal. Please also remember that our counselors work a limited number of days over the summer, and may not be able to respond to your inquiry in as timely a manner as during the school year. We look forward to welcoming our 10th through 12th graders back to school in the fall and are also excited to welcome our rising 9th graders for the first time! More information will be forthcoming regarding 9th grade orientation activities that are planned for August. In the meantime, we wish all of you a safe and restful summer.
Dr. Kate Kieres, Principal
Emmaus High School