Administration seeks to alleviate stress with more flex periods
Hopkinton High School will be making some changes next year, ones that school officials hope will have an effect on students’ social and emotional well-being.
During the March 28 School Committee meeting, HHS principal Evan Bishop presented a proposal on phased-in changes to the school schedule.
“It’s a topic we have been talking about since 2005 … asking ourselves, does our current schedule meet the needs of our students and staff?” Bishop said.
It became a major focus this year, however, after representatives from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) visited and came back with some feedback about anxiety levels at the school.
“They noted how stressed the students and staff are,” Bishop said. “Students are saying there is very little downtime during the day, and that they are feeling overwhelmed and overbooked.”
Social/emotional learning already was a focus for the school this year with the addition of homework-free weekends, mindfulness sessions in classes and movement breaks. Officials then decided to re-examine the schedule to build in more time to alleviate stressors.
“One of the things we learned [from the teachers] was the value in building relationships with students,” said Bishop, noting that those relationships are hard to build during the half-year schedule that is in place at the high school now.
Results of a survey sent to students and staff also revealed that there was significant interest in adding a flex-block period, with 61 percent of students and 44 percent of staff stating that was the No. 1 change they would like to see in the schedule.
Bishop told the School Committee that after working with teachers, students and the student council, HHS decided to phase in scheduling changes over the next two school years. The first phase in 2019-20 would be to connect the two semesters and schedule students in year-long classes.
“It’s about that idea of continuing to build relationships,” he said.
Bishop also proposed ending the advisory program for at least the next year and replace it with additional Hiller days. Hiller days are late-start days for high school students in order to give teachers common planning time and students time to meet for study groups or just get a little more sleep. Bishop said HHS would move from two Hiller days per month to Hiller days every Friday.
“I feel like this will have a lot of impact for the kids and the staff,” he said.
Lastly, a fourth lunch would be added to the schedule to help with the crowding issues that three lunches create with more than 1,200 students using a 365-seat cafeteria.
As for changing the schedule to add a flex-block, Bishop told the committee that more research would need to be done over the next year to see if it was feasible for HHS for the 2020-21 school year, and if so, how it would be implemented.
“We want to make sure we are thoughtful and have conversations before we make any decisions,” he said.
Not all of the School Committee members were in agreement with the plan.
“I am protective of learning time. … Adding more free time gives me more hesitation,” Amanda Fargiano said. “I love that Hiller day is kind of special, and I am not sure if it will have the same impact if it is going to be every week.”
In the end, the School Committee voted three in approval and one abstention to the proposed schedule changes for the 2019-20 school year.