Oyster River High School debuted an array of changes in the 2018-2019 school year. Alongside the new schedule, there was a notable revamp of Advisory to include a period called Flex.
This fifty minute Flex block is a main feature of the new rotating block schedule at the high school. The period serves as a time for students to independently complete homework, receive academic support from their teachers, and relearn and reassess class material during the school day. With proper use of this time, students could leave school with a smaller workload. Now, after having the period in the schedule for nearly half of the school year, the hope is that students are enjoying and using the block appropriately.
In the Spring of the 2017-2018 academic year, ORHS administration created a SurveyMonkey that included a questionnaire about the schedule. This survey was sent out to all of the advisories in the school and received 500 responses. The poll concluded that many students were concerned with stress levels and the amount of homework they were receiving based on the schedule. Because of this, administration deemed it beneficial to add this Flex block into the new schedule.
Oyster River High School’s Dean of Faculty, Mark Milliken, reiterated the purpose of Flex and said it “provides students a chance to get academic support, social/emotional support, a break in the school day, and a time to get work done.”
Teachers and students alike have been taking advantage of the period. Sophie Moore (‘19) stated: “I am always using it to my benefit, whether that’s just to read and listen to music for a break in my day or to work on homework.”
Along with Moore, other students have benefitted from the Flex block. This quarter, a Google Form that consisted of questions regarding the new schedule and Flex was posted in each of the high school class’ Facebook pages. This information was used for both this article, as well as the article about how students are liking the new schedule. Based off of the 79 responses that were received, it was concluded that, for the whole school, between 40.1% and 61.1% of all people would agree that Flex was a beneficial change.
Although many students, like Moore, have been enjoying Flex, there are still concerns about the program.
Amelia Concannon (‘19) mentioned that, “Flex is a good time to finish some homework assignments, but it’s definitely not enough time to finish all of my homework, especially when the block is split between Flex and Advisory.” One of the benefits of Flex is to allow students to get a head start on their homework load, but, as Concannon said, not to entirely complete it.
While the main purpose of the new Flex block is devoted to connecting with teachers and receiving academic help, Concannon is referring to the split between Flex block and Advisory three times a week. The new period still differs from complete blocks of Advisory last year where students were limited to discussion based periods and were only able to receive outside help during Office Hours twice a week.
An ORHS English teacher and a parent of two students in the high school, Kara Sullivan, noticed that this change from Advisory to Flex has made a notable difference. “Eighty percent of my students are now using the time effectively. That does not mean that they are working nonstop, but sometimes they are working and sometimes they are relaxing.” The other twenty percent of students in her Advisory “are on their phones when they could be doing work [during Flex],” she said.
Despite this, Milliken highlighted that he is confident that most students are using this block productively. “The hallways are mostly empty during Flex meaning that students are in classrooms. Last year, it was crowded and chaotic in the hallways, but this year, it seems like more students are using Flex appropriately,” said Milliken.
To support Milliken’s claim, the survey concluded that, between 83.6% and 96.2% of students in the entire school are using Flex to work on homework, between 61.4% and 80.4% students are meeting with teachers for academic support, and between 44.0% and 64.8% of students are making up tests or labs.
Along with getting work done, students spoke highly of their opportunity to meet with teachers during the Flex block. Tucker Henry (‘19) mentioned that he has been able to meet with his teachers for extra help, as well as to clarify homework assignments and make-up work that he missed because of sports dismissals or from being absent.
However, Concannon brought up the fact that being able to get scheduled to be in another teacher’s Flex time is sometimes difficult. “At times, I have a hard time scheduling to meet with teachers, which is inconvenient. Also, when I forget to schedule myself with a teacher prior to the day of, I am not allowed to. That’s hard because I sometimes forget that I need to meet with a teacher,” said Concannon.
The survey supported Concannon’s point, showing that between 42.7% and 63.7% of students in the entire school would agree that their scheduling out of Flex has been only somewhat successful.
In response to this, Milliken noted that the Flex Committee has been discussing the process in which students can schedule themselves to go to another teacher’s classroom for Flex. He said, “soon, the scheduling for Flex time will be rolled out to students and will most likely [be rolled out to] upperclassmen first. Then, we will see how that works.”
Along with the scheduling process, some individuals are concerned with the amount of students signing up to meet with one particular teacher during the same Flex time. Moore said, “the teachers always seem overwhelmed when we go in for help because they have so many students in Flex from different classes and at various levels.” She continued, saying, “this gets in the way of them being able to help everyone, and then the teachers are more stressed and the students don’t get the help they may need.”
Although Moore’s point poses a problem, Flex does provide teachers with a block of time in their schedules to meet with students for academic support or for make-up work and assessments. “It’s much easier to schedule students for make-up work, or for a student who is having a hard time with an assignment to come in and talk about the assignment with me,” said Sullivan.
Even though teachers can provide their students with extra assistance, the period is taking up necessary class time. Bill Reeves, an ORHS mathematics teachers, stated: “Flex is a great opportunity, but losing class time to do it could be ineffective. I am worried about the timeline for AP classes with Flex time because there is a hard deadline.” He continued, saying, “[in comparison to last year’s schedule], every three days we lose twenty minutes of class.”
However, the cut-down of class time has made this block a useful break in the day for both students. “I like the placement in the day; it gives students a break between blocks. In terms of giving everyone a breather, it is super helpful,” said Sullivan.
This free time has been especially advantageous for Jenna Young (‘22). She mentioned that Flex has helped with her transition into high school and she said: “it has been really helpful for me when studying for tests and getting extra help, especially when I miss a class for sports.” She added, “I feel less pressure when I get a sizable amount of homework and know I have Flex time to do it.”
Because students have been able to use this period to complete work or for down time, they have had more free time outside of school. Moore stated: “my workload is definitely lighter due to Flex. As someone who has a job and a lot of extracurriculars after school, Flex time is incredibly useful.”
Now that students are receiving extra help, a break, and more time to do work, some say that their stress levels have even been reduced. Moore expressed the fact that she is a little less stressed now that Flex is a part of the schedule. Now, she can see teachers or her peers for group projects during school instead of having to come in early or stay late.
In turn, this is minimizing some teachers’ and parents’ stress levels. Brian Cisneros, a member of the School Board and a parent of Audrey Cisneros (‘21), said, “Audrey is using [Flex] to complete some homework with the help she is getting. This is causing her to be less stressed at home at night trying to get it done.” He continued, saying, “when she is less stressed, that means I am less stressed. Stress can change the dynamic of a household.”
In support of Cisneros’ claim, the survey concluded that for the entire school, between 33.9% and 54.7% of students would agree that the new schedule has reduced their stress levels.
Along with parents, Sullivan noted that, “overall, the pace of the schedule has helped my stress level, just speaking personally. The pace of the day is different.”
Another issue Flex has attempted to address is the timing of club meetings. Currently, a number of clubs are meeting before or after school. Shannon Foulds (‘20), a member of the school’s Student-Athlete Leadership Team, noted: “the [before school] morning meetings certainly throw off my schedule, and I believe Flex time should be used for such meetings. It’d definitely be more convenient if we took advantage of Flex for this.”
Milliken addressed this concern and stated that administration has now allowed clubs to meet two time per month during Flex, and are now also implementing enrichment time to Flex. “However, we wanted to start small and focused so that everybody gets in good habits first,” said Milliken.
Milliken also noted that the hope is that students establish productive routines and continue to use Flex time appropriately and efficiently throughout the course of the school year.
Soon, more options for enrichment time will be available for students during Flex. These options include: Photography Club with Cathi Stetson; Walking Club with Tracey Benkosky; Women in STEM with Tracey Benkosky; Chess Club with Marjke Yatsevitch; Cribbage Club with Celeste Best; Exploring Mindfulness with Kathy Pearce; Origami with Sara Cathey; Sewing 101 with Andrea Drake; Social Justice Issues with Jim Thibault; Speaking Games with Shauna Horsley; and Student Voice with Suzanne Filippone.
Written by Abby Schmitt
Artwork by Emma Kovalcik