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Learning Matters: Fitting it all in

All across the Glendale Unified School District for the last two weeks, high school students arrived — on separate days for each grade level — for “schedule pick-up,” the ritual start of the school year. Classes for all grades begin Aug. 22.

I witnessed the event at one campus this year, seeing sophomores one morning and freshmen another, but the rituals are similar from grade to grade and school to school. Following a path through the campus to prescribed stations — the student store, for instance, for payment of any outstanding fees for lost textbooks, or the gym, to purchase gym clothes — students came at last to the information they wanted most, the revelation of their fates for the year.

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Upper class students cheerfully dispensed the schedules of classes, by period and teacher, for each student. The student volunteers I saw at Glendale High were mostly members of Kelly Palmer’s award-winning drill team, giving their time in exchange for community service hours that will be included in their high school record — and perhaps more importantly, for the customer service and organizational experience they gain.

During the freshman schedule distribution at Glendale High, split into two days to accommodate an orientation and student-led tours of the campus, I watched pairs of Associated Student Body representatives from Jon Livingston’s classes as they led small groups of students through the campus. Clad in matching “Student Leader 2018-2019” shirts, these guides encouraged the entering freshmen “to get involved on campus” while answering questions as they went.

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In the shade of the Senior Glen, band members practiced the national anthem in preparation for the season’s first football game.

It was mid-morning when I saw the sophomores, after many of them had come and gone, so there was less bustle than I’ve seen in other years but still a sense of anticipation. Sophomores are arguably the least anxiety-ridden of the grade levels. The class as a whole is familiar with high school routines and personnel but not yet caught up in the pressure-zone occupied by many juniors and seniors, for whom the jump-off to college and career is fast approaching.

The sophomores walked or sat in pairs and clusters, comparing schedules, a few calling or texting their friends or parents. Some were weighing whether to schedule an appointment with a counselor to request a change.

“Do you know this teacher?” one young man asked me. “I wonder if he’s new,” he went on, expressing his concern about the unknown and voicing a wish to change to a more familiar teacher.

Class schedules are a big deal in the life of a student, whether for personal comfort and school social life or for academic concerns. Students with defined college and career goals or genuine passion for a subject are often faced with difficult choices: advanced art or advanced placement (AP) government? A fourth year of language or a career technical education (CTE) class with work experience?

Schedules matter, too, for students with less defined goals, like those who see school only as a list of requirements to be checked off (like the schedule pick-up agenda). We should not speak of “college bound” and “non-college bound” students. All students need to know what the labor market reports tell us, that their futures will require some post-secondary instruction if they’re to gain meaningful employment.

It isn’t easy for students or schools to fit everything into six periods over eight semesters, given all that’s considered necessary for student success. Beyond the basic graduation requirements, more students are trying to meet the college admission requirements (commonly called the “A to G requirements”), taking advanced placement classes, attaining fluency in a second language, and like the drill team and ASB students, spending time in community service.

State and local regulations, policies and funding realities don’t always make the schedule challenge easier. Summer school is no longer an option for all students, since the state quit paying for elective, non-remedial summer classes. For several years now, district students wishing to advance or open up their schedules have had to pay for classes offered through the Glendale Educational Foundation. Neighboring districts have similar foundation-operated summer schools.

Still, we push for students to get more. We want them to explore career choices that could guide their college plans, to experience work-based learning opportunities that can provide the soft skills industry says young employees need. The school board recently prioritized financial literacy as a skill students should gain in school, and they’re beginning to talk about where it will fit and who will teach it. Yet classroom teachers can’t do everything in their allotted instructional minutes!

The good news is that new opportunities for teaching and learning are out there, from online learning platforms that can be used by district teachers or students to dual enrollment classes at Glendale Community College, in which students can get college credit while in high school. There’s even talk of adding a seventh period to the school day, as Clark Magnet High School did when it opened 20 years ago and Roosevelt Middle School initiated recently.

Meanwhile, students can pick up learning opportunities wherever they find them, inside the six-period day or out. Happy new year, students!

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