Flintridge Sacred Heart cheers block scheduling

It used to be that just when things got interesting inside the classroom at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, the bell would ring.

But students and teachers at the 80-year-old school on the hill say a new schedule put in place this year is opening up the learning process.

Sacred Heart has moved to a block-schedule program. Instead of six daily 50-minute classes, the new schedule features a rotation of four 80-minute classes Tuesday through Friday. On Mondays, students at the private, all-girls Catholic school attend all seven of their classes for 50 minutes.

“I think it’s been a big improvement,” said senior honors student Camilla Strassle. “It’s easier to handle material when you have longer blocks of time.”

Instructors often use the longer periods to present material and then supervise break-out groups where students go over the work together.

“We’re changing the focus so that the learning is about the students, not the teachers,” said Sherrie Singer, the new assistant principal for curriculum and instruction. “Now it’s 18 perspectives rather than one.”

The new schedule helps prepare students for the future by encouraging collaboration, problem-solving and familiarizing them with group dynamics, according to Lisa Muñoz Bruchey, the academy’s director of marketing and communications.

“It’s setting them up for so much more success,” Bruchey said. “It gives them a truer sense of what life will be after high school.”

Social studies teacher Mario Pariante, who has taught for 32 years, including six at Sacred Heart, credits the strategic plan adopted by the school in 2010.

“That led us to three innovations,” Pariante said.

One is block scheduling, and another is the “1:1 Laptop Program,” which provides for the distribution of new MacBook Air laptop computers for all current freshmen.

The third innovation, Pariante said, is “curricular mapping,” which lets teachers in on other instructors’ lesson plan details on a week-by-week basis.

“It really completes the circle,” said AP history teacher Eric Pals. “I think curricular mapping helps the process in a pedagogically sound way.”

Math instructor John Robb uses another innovation called “Flipped Classroom.” Robb’s students first work on math problems in class, and later watch a video of Robb presenting the lesson.

“It’s opposite of the old way,” Singer said.

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