Opinion: RUSD’s distance learning schedule needs to change to block

Originally published in La Plaza Press


Textbooks and Zoom logo depict the long hours students and teachers spent online each school day doing rigorous work and planning. Students spend approximately six hours on their screens for online instruction, not including the time later taken to complete homework. (MIA ARANDA / La Plaza photo) 

The fourth quarter of the 2019-20 school year underwent the implementation of online learning and video communications via Zoom and Google Meet due to the severity of COVID-19 cases. With this experience, students and teachers expected improvement in learning for August of 2020, having more time to prepare. However, it was quickly distinguished by frustration, exhaustion, and confusion due to the long school day being online. 

Having to start the year with distance learning revealed that this school year would not be the same as last quarter. The last quarter of school was an undemanding academic period of time in consideration of the countless circumstances students could be facing. Students’ grades from the third quarter were only able to increase and attendance was still taken simply to check in on students to confirm their wellbeing. It is understandable that there should be more rigor now, but increasing hours online proved to be more exhausting and unhealthy than considered. 

Prior to the start of the school year on Aug. 13, staff members worked tirelessly to establish how they could efficiently make distance learning effective in regards to the various home situations every student may be experiencing. Nonetheless, teachers are facing the expected difficulties and complexities of giving quality instruction to students through Google Classroom and video sessions. Every day, teachers work overtime to figure out ways to accommodate this heavy schedule. 

At the moment, RUSD’s distance learning schedule is the same for each weekday: one 50 minute class period and five 45-minute class periods separated by five-minute passing periods and a thirty-minute lunch break. This schedule does not adequately account for the excessive amount of time teachers and students are spending staring at their screens and sitting each day nor permit enough break time to use the restroom or perform any movement to stretch before the next class. 

Redlands High School sophomore Kayleen Lim said, “Five-minute ‘passing’ periods are not enough to smoothly transition our minds from one period to the next. I’ve even heard teachers say this with their own mouths. The teachers know the schedule is really inadequate.”

A block schedule should be implemented in exchange for this current schedule. With a block schedule, students would have three classes each day for four days each week in which each class consists of one hour periods or blocks. The other day would essentially be a checkup day with twenty-minute class periods for teachers to answer any questions or go over anything quickly preceding a twenty-minute screen time break before the next class. 

With one hour blocks, teachers would be presented with the opportunity to provide instruction in the first half of class and then assign independent, screen-free classwork for the student to do offline in the second half of class. 

The primary goal of executing a block schedule is to reduce the amount of time students and teachers are spending on the computer. According to Aaptiv, an online health and fitness magazine, excessive time spent staring at a screen can cause eye strain, sleep disorders, headaches, depression, and an increased risk of obesity.

Yucaipa High School applied block as their distance learning schedule this school year. Each day, school starts at 9 a.m., and students are finished with online instruction at 12:30 p.m.

Redlands East Valley junior Jamil Mouri said, “I believe that the distance learning format that is currently being employed by our school is ineffective because it does not permit teachers with enough time to finish lessons, testing is much harder due to the shorter class periods, and students are spending roughly 6 hrs in front of a screen, not including the amount of time [they have] to spend on homework.”

“Overall, schools should employ a block schedule at some point in the week whether it be on Wednesday and Thursday or Thursday and Friday. In my opinion, Thursday and Friday would work the best because teachers then are able to test the students for longer periods,” continues Mouri. “The block would allow for students to get the help they need and ask questions instead of being forced to suffer in silence due to the time restraint over six periods a day.”

Dr. Michelle Stover, Chemistry and AP Chemistry teacher at Citrus Valley High School said, “Yes, I do believe the current DL schedule can be improved to ensure the well being of students and teachers. A five-minute break is not sufficient to transition from one class to another, to take a break to go to the restroom, or to simply unwind after a 45-minute lesson.” 

“Being a science teacher, block schedule works really well for a lab, activity, demo or just to have time to transition from screen to real-time with students having hand-on applications, such as being on their own, researching or doing work online, with or without teacher supervision,” said Stover. “It depends on the student because some work better alone or some work well with the teacher’s assistance. It should be teacher discretion as long as the content is reached and deadlines are met by the students. Another, a block schedule will limit the daily attendance and video recording a teacher has to do on top of all the other juggling around teaching technology and content among others.” 

On the other hand, others would prefer to have all of their classes each day, but with extended passing period breaks. 

RHS sophomore Emma Wuysang said, “The only thing I would like to have changed is the spacing between classes and a longer lunchtime. I feel like block scheduling could be helpful but I would rather take all of my classes.”

However, having more time during breaks and lunch would result in a lengthier school day unless some of the student support time is sacrificed. This doesn’t communicate the reality that having such a long school day has already created problems, therefore, increasing the length of a school day makes the issue worse and is not an ideal choice. 

RUSD has decided to change the current distance schedule to permit more time during passing period but neglects the notion of changing to block or allowing more time during lunch. The new schedule results in the school day is lengthened by twelve minutes.

This was the new schedule for Citrus Valley, Redlands East Valley, and Redlands High School effective starting Aug. 31.

The revised schedule includes eight-minute passing periods instead of five, which will alleviate stress with a longer break to use the restroom or get a quick snack. Oftentimes, when classes accidentally run late, even by a mere two minutes, students and teachers feel pressured to log into their next class with no break time available to ensure they are on time. Thanks to these longer passing periods, even if a class period does run a bit late, students and teachers won’t feel as much pressure to have to log into their next class right away. 

However, this revised schedule takes away time from the student support window after school. Student support is pivotal in providing extra help for students who need it, especially now when students aren’t able to be on campus. Before, the student support period was one hour long, but it now spans forty minutes. 

Reduce time online.

Easier to absorb information in chunks.

Shorter school day.

Realistic breaks give time to move, rest eyes, and use the restroom. 

Unlimited lunchtime accounts for family responsibilities.

Sometimes less is more. 

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