District makes Wednesdays multi-synchronous

Grace Goverman, News Editor

LOSD schools are implementing a multi-sychronous Wednesday schedule in response to challenges during the first quarter. In place of a normal schedule, Wednesday classes are 30 minutes long, with the entire school day spanning from 8:30 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. Both teachers and students will have the rest of the day to catch up on work, receive support and plan. Thursdays will now use the same bell schedule as Monday, Tuesday and Friday. 

The change hopes to address several issues. Gerrit Koepping, a social studies teacher and lead negotiator for the teacher’s union that helped establish the Wednesday schedule, said that, “We saw other school districts were setting them up [because] the online learning was more overwhelming for the teachers and the students… There are just so many new challenges that came with this remote learning that it was creating a lot of stress for [them]. And so the idea for the multi-synchronous day was the opportunity for a little breathing room for teachers to get grading done, for students to have time to work, and even in some ways more importantly, we set up these short periods of time… for students and teachers to just check in with each other.”

One major challenge for both students and teachers with distance learning was maintaining the quality of education at the fast pace demanded by the online schedule. “Teachers in LO, and I think teachers in general, but I would say teachers in LO, we take teaching very seriously.… With all the change there was just a feeling of fear that maybe we weren’t delivering the quality of education that we really were hoping would always be given, and that creates a lot of anxiety… we were trying to do all of these things that we used to deliver in person and now we’re trying to do it remotely and we wanted to make sure it was as good if not better,” said Koepping. 

With these pressures combined with the state of the world, the first quarter was grueling for many teachers. “I was working from early in the morning, to late at night. So every single day, it was all day, every day. And it was exhausting… Last quarter was terrible. I’ve never worked so hard in all my years of teaching,” said AP Biology teacher Susan Wentzien. 

She was not alone in that experience, as Koepping described how, “The numbers are nuts. I was getting lots of emails from teachers basically saying they were barely holding it together, that they were spending hours and hours preparing lessons and grading and just trying because they really wanted to make sure that students were getting a good experience and were learning. And teachers in LO are nothing if not serious about that.” 

Another new challenge was the lack of individualized time with students. English teacher Mark McNeal stated that, “The online structure as we had it didn’t allow for… one on one student interaction with teachers. For writing conferences, for re-teaching material, there was nothing set up into our schedule.” With the normal school set up with dedicated time for support seminar and a daily prep period gone, many felt in need of more personalized time for working with students. “This online schedule…. was just too fast moving, no time for decompressing and reteaching or… conferencing or… having individual space,” said McNeal. 

Many teachers felt the lack of ordinary interactions impacting their teaching. Koepping said, “In a normal class, we’d see students in the hall, or they’d come in a few minutes before class starts, and you could chat and sort of check in.. and [see] how everybody is doing. And that really was lost, so now we have these half hour periods where we can talk to our students, see how they’re doing… if they’re struggling…  if they’re succeeding, seeing what’s working for them, seeing what’s not. So it’s not just a period of time for teachers and students to work, it’s also a period of time for us to sort of specifically connect with each other.”

The new schedule was the result of many groups’ interests coming together. “I think for as much as the district and the union disagree on any number of points, just because we come from different perspectives, I think we all agree that what we’re worried about, and trying to find the right balance about, is making sure you guys had a rigorous school experience but at the same time weren’t overwhelmed,” said Koepping.

 Between students and parents wanting to reduce screen time and teachers facing growing challenges, says student LOHS school board representative Liza Wadell, “it was a threefold of different groups all wanting different things that pushed for it. But I think it’s an evolving process, because I know that after the more negative feedback that we got, they’re also working on getting more support for people who maybe aren’t benefiting from having Wednesday as a multi-synchronous day.” She explained how, “It was different for everybody. I know that people who were reaching out to me really talked about feeling like they were just staring at a screen all day and wanting to have a multi-synchronous day so that they could have more time to relax and… maybe take a break, or manage their own time in a way that they wouldn’t be getting Zoom fatigue, so I know that was a huge factor in why people wanted it.” 

The shortened classes, however, have some worried about whether there will be enough time to cover all Advanced Placement course material before spring exams. “As an AP teacher, it’s really hard missing out on a whole period of instruction… it’s going to make it difficult for us, especially [students] that are in this second quarter, to get through the curriculum in time for the AP test,” said Wentzien. 

Some are hoping that the College Board will make changes in time for the exam. “In the spring, College Board… was aware of the problem and adjusted the AP test accordingly. And so far, there hasn’t been much indication that they’re going to do that. But I have to trust that they are going to modify the exam to match the constraints that we’re under right now… It’s in their best interest to allow students to be successful… In all of the classes, the teachers are being forced to choose what’s the most essential of the essential, so I’m just hoping by focusing on that, students will be ready to go,” said McNeal.  

Others see the new Wednesday schedule as a partial solution to reduced teaching time. “Hopefully with the extra planning time, we can be creative about how we can be more efficient in presenting our curriculum so that we are able to get through stuff…. I’m using it as a positive: ‘Okay, I’m not meeting with my students, but maybe I can figure out a way that we can more efficiently get through the content using the extra planning time that I have,’” said Wentzien. 

Ultimately, individual experiences with the new schedule will likely vary widely by student. Wadell said, “It also just has to do with the fact that everyone is taking different classes… That’s what makes it so tricky, because it’s trying to do what’s best for most people, but it’s hard to help everyone, especially in this kind of environment…. Even with my friend group, people had different opinions on what they thought they should do… It’s unfortunately…. going to hurt some people and help some people…. I know that some people feel like if they’re taking AP classes they want a break to not have to stare at a screen and feel [overwhelmed]… Everyone’s taking different classes, everyone’s different ages, everyone has different abilities in terms of time management or what’s going on in their house. It’s just going to impact people in different ways.” 

The final decision hinged upon the system’s durability. Wadell explained how, “They did a survey… where they asked people would you want more [or less asynchronous time,] and the results that we got back were pretty much 50-50 of people who wanted more and less…. It ultimately just came down to the teachers…. were getting sort of overwhelmed, and there was a large amount of people who wanted the multi-synchronous day, so… this was the most sustainable option.”