When the bell rings at 10:00am every Monday and Wednesday, Tess Pueschel (‘22) flips open her math notebook and starts to do the homework assigned for the next period. Meanwhile, Leo Doyle (‘25) shoots hoops in the gym with his friends and the school’s math teachers scramble to help all of the struggling students in the five classes they teach. With so many students doing so many different things in the building, are these 50 minutes of Flex time necessary and as useful as they can be?
With the 2021-2022 school year wrapping up, the Oyster River High School (ORHS) administration is looking to improve the schedule in the interest of students and faculty, specifically for Flex time. Flex time at ORHS refers to the 50-minute block after advisory on Blue days when students have the opportunity to seek academic support and social breaks based on their needs.
As a flexible period in the day, Flex is often used by students to receive extra help, make up assessments, complete homework assignments, and take a break in the day. Both teachers and students try to use this designated support period in beneficial ways, but many have mixed feedback on the current model used for Flex at the high school. With issues with congestion in classrooms and students staying in their scheduled rooms, there is consideration of making Flex time longer or more frequent throughout the week.
Before considering changing the Flex period in high school, it’s important to understand how it’s currently used and why it’s important. Flex is used by students for numerous reasons and many say that these 50 minutes are helpful for managing their workload. Pueschel said that she uses Flex time to complete assignments or study, especially if she has a quiz in her remaining classes that day. As a part of her time management, she said, “the work that I do during Flex allows me to have more time at night to either do more homework or take a break after a long day.”
This time is especially helpful for students who take higher-level classes that assign more and harder coursework. Julian Severance (‘22) makes a point that “a lot of other students who take more rigorous courses use it to do work… I think it really pushes those students to be able to take those more rigorous courses and motivates them because they know they will have the time to do that.”
For teachers, Flex can also be a time for grading or a preparation period for their classes. Bill Reeves, an ORHS math teacher, said that he uses this block of time to grade tests and assessments when he’s not occupied with assisting students.
While some students like Pueschel use Flex as a time to get their homework done so that they can use their at-home time as a break, others use this period for the opposite. Doyle uses his Flex time “to go to the gym and hang out with my friends.” Many students like Doyle spend their Flex time playing basketball or football in the gymnasium or playing chess or board games in the library. They see this time as an opportunity to socialize and decompress during the week.
Similarly, Severance spends his Flex time in his advisory socializing and listening to music to decompress. He appreciates Flex as a “built-in time for students to chill if they need it.” Individual students work effectively in different environments, whether that be in the building or at home. Students may choose to relax during Flex time, knowing that they will be more focused and efficient when sitting at their kitchen table later in the day.
Mark Milliken, a member of the Scheduling Committee and Flex Committee, said he acknowledges that students use Flex time differently based on their own needs. However, he also believes that “there is a time and place for blowing off steam and what [students] have to do is discern when that’s beneficial and needed versus [using it for] academic needs.”
As a substitute for “blowing off steam” in places like the gym and library, Milliken said that the committees have been working on rolling out enrichment activities for the fourth quarter of the 2021-2022 school year. “For the kids that don’t necessarily need academic help or to see their teachers, we are offering more enrichment-type opportunities,” he said.
For those who do need the extra help to catch up on missed work or meet with teachers, Flex periods are an especially valuable resource for student-athletes at the high school. Pueschel, a two-season athlete, said that these periods are helpful for catching up on classes she missed to go to games, as well as finishing assignments that she doesn’t have time for after games. Typical of many athletes, Pueschel said that she often doesn’t get home from games until 7:30 or 8:00pm, which makes a built-in period to do homework during the day all the more valuable.
Athletes aren’t the only ones who use Flex as an opportunity to meet with teachers. Students who need to get extra help to understand a concept, make up a missed assessment, or communicate with their teachers for other reasons may choose to schedule themselves to their room to do so.
With students scheduling themselves in classrooms throughout the building, Milliken said that there have been issues with kids going to the wrong room, wandering the halls, and hanging out in common places such as the senior core. As a matter of safety, security, and supervision, Milliken stressed the importance of making sure administration knows where students are in the building. To troubleshoot this, the Flex Committee has tried implementing 10-minute Flex passes and having teachers not accept kids into classrooms they were not scheduled into.
In addition to some of the security problems that occur during Flex, another issue during these 50 minutes is the congestion certain teachers face in their classrooms. This can make it difficult to help every student with their individual needs. “We had a final yesterday, and I went in during Flex and there were so many people asking questions so it took forever for the teacher to respond,” said Lotta Berglund (‘25). Especially for teachers in the math and science departments, classrooms fill up quickly with students with individual needs. This can feel overwhelming for the teachers who need to divide their attention in a way that addresses each student’s questions and needs. “I do feel overwhelmed at times when I’m trying to help five people at the same time and they’re all doing different topics,” said Reeves. His classroom is among the many that are often packed with students during Flex periods.
Reeves continued, “sometimes I’m caught off guard by who shows up and it’s hard to plan for that. When I anticipate it, I can plan ahead and say only certain classes are available this time, but then I feel guilty that I’m pushing out other people that might need help.”
So, how can administration fix this congestion while still providing students the time they need to receive needed academic support from their teachers? Many students and teachers say that Flex time should be increased—not necessarily lengthwise, but included more frequently in the schedule. “I think we have the appropriate amount of Flex time, but it would be nice to see Flex every day,” said Reeves. He also suggests, “I would like to see less advisory time and more Flex time.”
Pueschel shared the support of having Flex time daily and dislikes the gap between the last Flex and the weekend. “I feel like I miss out [on Flex time] towards the end of the week. We have it on a Monday and a Wednesday, and at the end of the week I’m left hanging until the next Monday,” she said.
Both teachers and students have experienced the 2019-2020 schedule where Flex was offered four times a week, the 2020-2021 remote-learning schedule where Flex was offered daily, and the current Monday-Wednesday Flex schedule. The Scheduling Committee is currently working to draft a model for the 2022-2023 school year that includes teacher and student feedback. It is expected to be finalized before the end of the current school year.