Class conflicts vex students

Several students at Costa Mesa High School are pondering a question that could affect the next four years of their education.

Does Advanced Placement calculus or marching band look more impressive on a college application?

Students at Mesa are forced each year to choose between courses that they feel are necessary for college admission, such as AP calculus, and classes they are passionate about, like marching band, because they are scheduled during the same period, said art teacher Kirby Piazza.

After spending three years involved in band, one student entering her senior year was tasked with deciding between her passion and an AP course.

"What a thing to have on your resume, you were in the marching band," Piazza said. "The student felt she needed AP calculus to go to college as well. The students shouldn't have to make that choice."

However, the situation isn't without remedy, Piazza said.

For three years, teachers and administrators at Mesa have discussed moving away from a traditional bell schedule to a block schedule.

However, the administration hasn't yet been able to garner enough support from teachers to make the change, said Principal Phil D'Agostino.

With traditional bell schedules, like those used by Mesa and Corona del Mar High School, students attend six classes of 57 minutes each, each day of the school week.

The block schedule that Newport Harbor and Estancia high schools use allow students to take eight classes a week. Students have four classes per day for an hour and a half each, meaning classes are longer but they don't meet daily.

Block schedules allow administrators more flexibility in scheduling classes, resulting in fewer class conflicts for students, D'Agostino said.

"If you can carve the day into more chunks, you can offer more sections of certain classes," he said.

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District board recently adopted priorities for this year, with one of the main goals being to prepare students for college and careers after high school.

"Given the board's priorities, we are going to face challenges in being able to get every kid the classes they need," D'Agostino said. "We will make it happen no matter what, but there are some schedules that are more flexible."

Jeff Gall, a school counselor, said that since marching band stretches over two periods in the school day, students who wanted to take AP calculus could still do so by skipping one band period — thereby missing half the course — and taking the math class instead.

"It wasn't ideal, but they were still able to access the band," he said.

Gall said it's not uncommon for students to feel pressure to take advanced classes to make their college applications more competitive.

"AP calculus adds another level of rigor and makes their applications much more attractive," he said.

The problem of conflicting classes also affects students who have to retake courses after receiving a failing grade, D'Agostino said.

"When kids fail, they need to take those classes again," he said. "That's a seat space now that's being used for remediation as opposed to general education or enrichment."

D'Agostino admits that with block schedules, teachers have less contact time with students, seeing them once every other day as opposed to every day.

"However, you get quality over quantity when you make that trade-off," he said.

Campus administration and teachers are continuing to discuss the possibility of implementing a block schedule, but nothing has been decided yet, the principal said.

"I'm encouraged that the staff is always trying to dialogue about what's best for kids," he said.

Piazza said implementation of the new Common Core State Standards may be the final push teachers need to agree to change the schedule.

Because the new standards call for more in-depth, project-based learning, teachers and students may benefit from spending more time on one subject.

"I think Common Core might be the thing that makes us realize we can't do some of these lessons in 45 minutes," he said. "It may push some teachers to think differently about block schedules."

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