By Mitch Marcus
Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School should implement what is known as a drop schedule. In this model, fewer classes meet each day and all students attend a common lunch. These schedules result in increased class time, more relaxing lunches and decreased hall traffic in the course of the day.
One school in our area, Watchung Hills Regional High School, follows an innovative rotating drop schedule “to aid integration of technology and more engaging teaching practices in a more effective manner,” said Principal Thomas DiGanci, Ed.D., explaining the switch to a seven- class, common-lunch model.
At Watchung Hills, class periods are approximately 60 minutes long, but not all classes appear in the schedule each day. Instead, eight classes rotate through the seven-period daily schedule in a four-day cycle, with a different class period excluded or dropped, each day. (See graphic.)
Proponents of the drop schedule cite several advantages, especially the longer class periods.
“I think our school should adopt a drop schedule because students would be able to learn more and develop better relationships with their teachers,” said senior Hanaa Lakhani. “A drop schedule would give students the opportunity to ask more questions, cover more topics in depth, and allow more time for labs in science classes.”
“A drop schedule would help students because they could focus on a few subjects at a time,” said freshman Alyssa Gardner.
The longer, common lunch period offers students the opportunity to socialize, eat a meal without rushing, and perhaps attend a club meeting or get a start on homework.
DiGanci mentioned another benefit: the school day at Watch-ung Hills “is smooth and much less hectic” as students move between classes fewer times a day.
Our schedule is chaotic, with bells ringing for periods 4/5, 5/6, 6/7 and 7/8 to accommodate three lunches, and students parading in and out of the hallways.
“If we had a drop schedule…class would be less annoying because people wouldn’t be mingling all over the school,” said sophomore Mike Carlos.
Teachers might appreciate another feature of the rotating drop schedule: they would see a different set of students first thing each morning and last thing each afternoon.
The most significant aspect of the drop schedule is its potential to improve academics. At Watchung Hills, “performance in AP classes has improved, as the kids adjusted to the new system and managed their time well,” said DiGanci.
The drop-schedule model has its drawbacks, as a high school committee investigating it several years ago discovered. First, there would be a net loss of total instructional minutes each year, a result of classes not meeting every day. Also, we would need an eight-class-a-day schedule to accommodate the total number of courses and electives currently offered. Principal David Heisey, Ed.D., explained, only an extended school day would solve these problems, a change that would be challenging to obtain.
Finally, the common lunch period, one of the most attractive features of the drop schedule, also poses one of the biggest challenges: where to fit and how to accommodate more than 1,500 students at one time. In fact, according to Heisey, the impracticality of the common lunch makes implementing a drop schedule here challenging.
Despite these issues, we believe the benefits outweigh the problems and merit further investigation. School officials should go back to the drawing board and consider possible solutions to the lunch problem, such as
•allowing students who bring lunch to eat in the auditorium, classrooms and, in good weather, the courtyard;
•setting up more mobile food-selling stations around the school; and
•giving seniors permission to leave campus for lunch.
Many students might be in favor of a longer school day in light of the benefits of the drop schedule, so we suggest a school-wide poll to determine the matter.
President Obama has urged the nation to think about education in new ways; a drop schedule at this high school might be a good start.