Planning priorities: Junior Manav Patel, member of the scheduling committee, reviews materials from the Chester County Intermediate Unit’s report on focus groups it conducted regarding the
current high school schedule. The committee used data collected from the focus groups to inform the creation of a mixed-model schedule, which Conestoga will implement in the 2024-25 school year.
Planning priorities: Junior Manav Patel, member of the scheduling committee, reviews materials from the Chester County Intermediate Unit’s report on focus groups it conducted regarding the current high school schedule. The committee used data collected from the focus groups to inform the creation of a mixed-model schedule, which Conestoga will implement in the 2024-25 school year.
Lily Chen / The SPOKE

Shifting schedules: New mixed-model schedule approved for 2024-25 school year

By Lily Chen, Howard Kim, and Raima Saha, Design Editor, Co-News Editor, and Co-Opinion Editor

Since 2022, parents, teachers, administrators and students collaborated on a committee dedicated to creating a new high school schedule. Two years later, the plan is almost a reality.

On Jan. 2, the school board approved a new bell schedule for Conestoga High School, which will go into effect during the 2024-25 school year. Changes include a shift from the current six-day cycle to a weekly cycle, the removal of certain lunch times in the middle of class periods and the implementation of block scheduling with an hour-long “Lunch and Learn” on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The school day will maintain the same start and end times.

On Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays, students will move between eight 42-minute periods. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, they will have four 82-minute periods. On Wednesdays, students will attend their odd periods 1, 3, 5 and 7, and on Thursdays, they will attend even periods 2, 4, 6 and 8.

“The classes will be longer, which when you’re teaching cooking courses, can be really helpful,” said family and consumer sciences teacher Grace Hafer.

On eight-period days, instead of having the current four lunchtimes, there will only be three. Currently, “B” and “D” lunches are “split lunches,” which occur in the middle of a class, splitting the class into two 21-minute segments.

The new schedule will institute three new lunchtimes, none of which will split a class. “A” lunch will start at 10:25 a.m. before fourth period, “B” lunch will start at 11:12 a.m. before fifth period, and “C” lunch will start at 11:59 a.m. before sixth period.

“I love that we’re not going to have split lunch. I just think it’s disruptive,” said Dr. Wendy Towle, TESD director of curriculum, instruction, staff development and planning. “I know we had to do them because we just didn’t have space for a while, but I’m excited about that (going away).”

On block days, a single, hour-long Lunch and Learn will replace the three half-hour lunches. Students will be able to spend the hour eating lunch, doing homework, meeting teachers or counselors, attending club meetings, making up assessments or spending time with friends. Teachers will be available for half of the period, and counselors will be available for the full hour.

Senior and member of the scheduling committee Clif Hawkins feels that Lunch and Learn will provide students with time to catch up on work and relax.

“From an athletic standpoint, it gives time to slow down,” Hawkins said. “When things are ramping up and you’re kind of flying through everything, it gives a nice portion of time to be able to slow down, relax and make sure all your work is done.”

How TESD administration will rollout the new schedule

Before implementing Lunch and Learn, Conestoga administrators plan to guide students through an onboarding process in spring 2024. The administration will pilot the schedule with three lunchtimes instead of four in May. Lunch and Learn will not start until three weeks into the 2024-25 school year to ease students into the routine of having a single lunchtime for the entire student body.

“I am a little concerned for the amount of people in a concentrated area,” sophomore Fure Abhulimen said. “I feel like it might get chaotic, but I’m hopeful that this will work out.”

Scheduling committee members visited Garnet Valley, Harriton, Unionville and Radnor high schools, which all have Lunch and Learn, to see what aspects of their schedules could work best at Conestoga. Patel believes the visits were important because they allowed members to preview various schedules.

“We really got to sit down with the administrators,” Patel said. “We just talked about what goes good with their schedule, what they need to work on and things like that. We could see what was happening in real time.”

When Aaron Lockard, social studies teacher and member of the scheduling committee, visited Garnet Valley High School to observe its Lunch and Learn period, he saw firsthand the success its students had with the initiative.

“There was essentially zero trash in the hallways, but students all over the place: in the hallways, in different rooms, able to participate in clubs, able to just hang out and decompress from the rest of the day,” Lockard said.

Students will only have four periods on Wednesdays and Thursdays as opposed to the eight they will have on the other three days. 1.0-credit classes will meet four times a week instead of the current five, with a longer, block period on either Wednesday or Thursday.

English teacher Dori Madigan said that she thinks longer periods on block days will allow students more time to work on the writing process and engage in collaborative reading.

“Writing is a difficult skill that doesn’t improve unless you get one-on-one feedback from your instructor,” Madigan said. “If you’re able to have that extra time to talk through what it is that you’re reading in the text, I think it’s going to improve every other aspect of the curriculum.”

Math teacher Seth Shore said that, with a new school schedule, he will have to rethink the way he structures his lesson plans to prepare for the AP exam in May.

“We still have to get through the same amount of material, even though we’re only going to have four face-to-face meetings a week instead of five,” Shore said. “Even though the periods are longer, we still need to fit five days of material into four days.”

As a result of the shift to a weekly cycle, days will alternate between “Garnet” and “Gray” designations, as opposed to numbers from 1 to 6. Wednesdays and Thursdays, as four-period days, will together count as either one Garnet or one Gray day. Every week, the colors will switch.

Certain course offerings will adjust to fit the new schedule. In the current schedule, a class that meets three of the six cycle days is worth 0.25 credits. With the new schedule, students will attend the class on either Garnet or Gray days only. Courses that currently meet twice a cycle and earn 0.2 credits, such as College and Career Transition and physical education classes, will change to meet on either Garnet or Gray days and be worth 0.25 credits.

How the committee created the schedule

Conestoga introduced the current school schedule in 1992, only reviewing it once in the early 2000s without making any changes. After the COVID-19 pandemic, Principal Dr. Amy Meisinger and other district administrators decided that it was time for another reevaluation of the schedule.

To reevaluate the current schedule, the school administration formed a scheduling committee in May 2022 composed of two students from each grade, one Conestoga teacher from each department and two parents of students from each grade. Teachers volunteered to be on the scheduling committee, and administrators chose one to represent each department.

There was no public invitation for students and parents to volunteer to serve on the committee. Instead, Meisinger asked TESD community and volunteer services coordinator Jeanne Braun to identify specific students and parents whom Braun thought had a “representative experience” of Conestoga. Meisinger invited the identified students and parents to join the scheduling committee.

“The admin team talked about who we thought would be a nice selection, a wide variety, and we picked students that way,” Meisinger said.

In January 2023, Meisinger and 11th grade assistant principal Dr. Matthew Sterenczak, a member of the scheduling committee, reached out to the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) for help in gathering input from those who would be impacted by the schedule change.

Melissa Smith, CCIU assistant director of communications, marketing and engagement, found that the scheduling committee members prioritized reducing stress, improving access to breadth of course selection and increasing collaboration time.

Smith put together six focus groups in spring 2023: two with staff, two with parents and guardians and two with students, none of whom were part of the scheduling committee. Meisinger sought volunteers through emails to parents and through group Schoology updates to students.

Smith and CCIU members facilitated the focus groups, asking school board members and administrators not to attend to obtain honest feedback. Focus group participants discussed their thoughts about the current schedule and what improvements could be made.

“It was more important for me to focus on what are the aspects of a schedule, your day-to-day that is important to you,” Smith said. “Then, we can help align a schedule that’s going to help meet that.”

Using input from the focus groups, Smith developed a survey and administered it to Conestoga students, staff and parents from May 23 to June 9. On Sept. 7, Meisinger, Smith and Sterenczak presented the survey results at a school board education committee meeting.

Using these results, the scheduling committee identified the main priorities to consider when creating the schedule: improving student and staff mental health, maintaining breadth of course selection, eliminating split lunches, maintaining privileges and having more time for collaboration.

The chosen mixed-model schedule is similar to Radnor High School’s schedule, which it implemented two years ago. The block component of the schedule accommodates a Lunch and Learn period without switching to a full block schedule every day.

“I think people were kind of scared of having an hour and a half of math because people were worried (that) it might suck, but the one-hour lunch period makes up for it,” said Rhea Howard, a junior at Radnor High School. “It staggers the homework workload, which is great.”

Social studies teacher John Herd believes that while the new schedule may be an adjustment for students and staff, it will have positive benefits for students and staff as a whole.

“It’s going to require me to switch up my typical planning, but I’m looking forward to that new challenge,” Herd said. “I’m interested in making the most of Lunch and Learn, and hopefully the students will enjoy that also. Whenever something changes, there’s always going to be some resistance, so it’s natural for people to question doing this. However, I’m okay with change, and I look forward to the challenge.”

Lily Chen can be reached at [email protected].

Howard Kim can be reached at [email protected].

Raima Saha can be reached at [email protected].

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