New Schedule Means Big Change – and Controversy – on the Hilltop

Georgia Rosenberg '19, Editor in Chief

The 2018-2019 school year has brought big change to the Hilltop. With thousands of square feet of new humanities and arts space, members of the school community are teeming with excitement. Many, however, find themselves struggling to adapt to the change, especially that which comes with the rollout of the brand new school schedule. The old schedule, which was in place for at least 10 years, became a customary routine for the SLS community. With an evolving school environment and many years without major schedule changes, the administration decided that it was time to review the system in place and consider improvements. This year’s new schedule, which includes staggered start times for middle and upper school, “Mini Course” time, a special “Z” period, and more, has been both a challenging and exciting transition for students and faculty.

Many students and teachers are still struggling to get into the new rhythm (an unsurprising reality considering the many special schedules and holidays that have already disrupted the traditional cadence of the school year). “We haven’t even gotten into the regular schedule yet,” says Mr. Yavenditti, Director of Studies, who spearheaded the development of the new schedule. He notes that this is “a crazy time of year,” and encourages the community to “be a little patient until we get settled” into our daily routine.

For some, however, aspects of the schedule are already presenting new challenges. The new “Z” period, which meets at the same time everyday (except for on Wednesdays), allows for middle school students to take upper school classes. “It messes with my mind to have the same class at the same time almost every day for a year,” says Jewels Finley ‘19. For teachers who teach two or more sections of the same class with one meeting during Z period, keeping all sections on the same agenda can be a challenging feat.

The placement of the double block during second period – rather than right before lunch – is also causing controversy. This decision was largely made in conjunction with the science department, whose members noted that a mid-morning double is more sensible for the completion of labs. “I like that the double isn’t right before lunch,” says Michael Pizzani ‘19. Though the former placement of the double often lead to early release from class to beat the lunch line – a student favorite – many students, like Michael, remember feeling hungry and antsy during the period. “Now I feel more focused during the double,” he says. “Plus, it’s nice to get it out of the way.”

Others, however, are convinced that the new-found congestion in the cafeteria stems from this change. Without the double block before lunch, upper school students are storming the cafeteria at the same time, resulting in a long, slow-moving lunch line. In an attempt to solve this issue, students and faculty will now form two lunch lines (rather than one). Many seniors are also disgruntled by the decision; those who have a double free no longer have it during lunch hour. “It makes it much more difficult to leave campus,” says Olivia Schwartz ‘19.

Daily “meeting times” have also been altered by the schedule. Town meeting, meditations, and advisory now occur during longer blocks of time, allowing for more announcements and discussions. Additionally, Wednesday’s meeting block now consists of built-in “club time” and also allows students to see teachers for extra help. Mr. Yavenditti notes, however, that these events are not necessarily supposed to last longer. Rather, buffer time has been built in to allow students to have some free time in between classes. Unsurprisingly, a hectic start to the school year has resulted in long town meetings and advisories, especially due to the Student-Led Advisory Conferences that occurred last Friday.

For many students, extra free time is much needed. With a total of seven class periods (compared to last year’s eight) students who take six classes only have one free period. Those who take seven classes have none. “With one less period, it’s really difficult to take a lot of classes, especially when you strive to have a competitive schedule,” says Lynden Steele ‘19. For those participating in the STEM, Global, or Classical Scholars Programs, fulfilling requirements directly translates into less free time. “If we wanted to have fewer drops, a later start, and still end around three, we had to drop a period,” Mr. Yavenditti notes.

The addition of “Mini Courses” also influenced the decision to cut out a period. The courses, which have not yet begun, meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, right after first period. Some run for only one-and-a-half weeks, while others meet for six weeks. Ranging on topics from chess to guitar to fashion, the courses give students the option to explore non-traditional subjects. The semester-long health class that was once required for all sophomores has now been broken up into five distinct Mini Courses. In order to meet graduation requirements, students (starting with this year’s sophomore class) must complete all five courses by about December of their junior year. For this year’s sophomores, fulfilling all of these requirements without the ability to have started them freshman year may be challenging – especially for those with an already jam-packed schedule. With this in mind, some of the courses will be offered over the summer. For juniors and seniors, these courses are entirely optional.

One thing is incredibly evident: student complaints are slim when it comes to this year’s later start time. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, upper school students begin class at 8:30 am. To alleviate traffic and congestion, middle school classes begin at 8:00 am. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, however, both the upper and middle school schedules begin at 9:00 am. Even 30 extra minutes of sleep can translate into happier, more energized students.

At a time of rapid change, feedback from all members of the SLS community is more important than ever. “My whole intent for this year is to get feedback from students and teachers to see what tweaks can be made,” says Mr. Yavenditti. He notes that there won’t be another major overhaul for a while, but that he is certainly open to small changes. “I’m trying to keep as open a mind as possible.”