Coronado High School (CHS) administration recently announced the implementation of a four by four schedule beginning in the 2021-2022 school year. This new system will allow students to enroll in six to eight classes, providing more opportunities for course selection compared to the current six-course schedule. The school year will be divided into two terms (semesters) with four grading periods in total. Islanders will be able to take up to four classes per term and eight total, hence the name “four by four.” Off-roll periods are available for selection, which athletes and those with numerous extracurricular activities are encouraged to take. Off-roll is essentially a study hall or free period, and students can have up to one period per term and two total. With three to four classes per day, Islanders will see each of their teachers Monday through Friday, interacting more closely and receiving the specialized attention every student deserves. However, weekly tests and almost double the homework are expected. Some perceive the coursework to become more rigorous, and Advanced Placement (AP) classes will have students moving through the material even faster as an entire year’s worth of material is covered in half a school year. This drastic change brings up concerns among the education community, including students themselves.
As one of two assistant principals at CHS, Ms. Catherine Burling advises students with last names beginning with the letters A through K. She has been a part of the team who has decided to make this change in the schedule.
“The conversation about a schedule change targeted at increasing opportunities for CHS students began a few years ago. Graduation and A-G requirements have changed a lot since our existing schedule was put into place,” she explained. “The six period day yearlong schedule used to be the norm in this region, but with increased requirements bell schedules leave students with very little room to remediate low grades, explore programs of interest, or complete multi-year pathways.”
She describes that over the past decade, numerous schools in the San Diego region have responded to these changes by providing alternative formats. They are created to allow students to have increased flexibility and expanded opportunities. A former principal in the Poway Unified district recently shared his thoughts on the four by four schedule and his first-hand experience of transitioning.
“When our team did research on the top performing high schools across the country, a clear theme emerged. Almost all schools had schedules that provided students with the opportunity to take 7-10 classes per year. A lot of different bell schedule styles and formats were looked at before we landed on the 4×4,” Ms. Burling shared.
Athletes’ Workload and Balance
Several students from different grade levels bring up concerns over the new schedule. Meghan Kurtz is a rising junior and a competitive lacrosse player. She believes that the four by four schedule will increase student workload because of the faster-paced classes. While she is taking seven classes next year with an off-roll fourth period during the spring, Meghan thinks that students will be discouraged from participating in activities outside of school because of the need to devote attention and time to homework.
“I think the four by four schedule will definitely impact extracurriculars and sports. If students are tasked with more work, it might discourage them from doing more extracurriculars and sports since they might want to exchange school activities for free time,” she explained.
Another rising junior, Zack Hansen, who is an ardent hockey player, agrees.
“I plan on taking six total classes next year, and I think the four by four schedule will increase the total amount of work by a lot,” he expressed. “I see myself doing a lot of homework every night, and that is not something that I want to have.”
On the positive side, Zack believes he will be more productive with the new schedule because of his two off-roll periods, one during each term. He sees the bright side in being released from school earlier in order to participate in activities outside of school.
Zoe Searles is a strong opponent of the four by four schedule. She was one of three Islanders that created a petition in March urging CHS administration to reconsider the implementation of this new schedule. It has since gained nearly 500 signatures.
“The four by four schedule brings up many concerns for the student body. The first one being that student athletes are put at a significant disadvantage,” she claimed. “The administration has broadcasted the extra ‘options’ for course schedules but student athletes are limited to 3 classes with a 4th period off roll both semesters so they don’t miss a significant amount of their fourth period class.”
Ms. Burling views the new schedule as opportunistic for students, and the many course selections available as a more positive experience.
“We (CHS administration) do not anticipate that the rigor of our courses will be significantly different in the new format. Student workloads will be distributed in an entirely different way than we are used to, but the 4 by 4 builds in opportunities to increase balance and focus,” she explains.
Students will interact with their teachers every day, and the ability to engage with the course material consistently will increase as class periods are longer. Currently, Islanders see their teacher three times a week. On Mondays, class periods are 45 minutes long, and students attend all classes. Tuesdays through Fridays are block days, where periods one through three are scheduled on Tuesdays and Thursdays and periods four through six are on Wednesdays and Fridays.
While Islanders have the opportunity to take more classes in a school year, they will also have less courses to focus on at one time. This leads to fewer due dates to keep track of and less teacher communication to keep up with.
The Concern for AP Classes and Tests
One of the biggest concerns about the four by four schedule is AP testing and scheduling. Since the school year is divided into two terms, AP courses are available in the fall and the spring. If a student takes an AP class in the fall, exams will most likely be scheduled in the spring. This leads to a several months-long gap between the culmination of the course and the test. On the other hand, if the course is offered in the spring, students will be forced to learn the material in an even shorter amount of time as tests are in May and June. Islanders will not have the opportunity to prepare until the end of the school year, but they will have a significant amount of time after the test in their classrooms.
Rising sophomore Chloe Forrester is scheduled to take six classes next year.
“To no surprise, the four by four schedule is going to impact my course load and homework by doubling it. We should expect weekly tests and fast-paced classes because a full year’s worth of content is going to be taught each semester,” she explained.
She believes that the new schedule is much more of a disadvantage to students because of the amount of time it will consume, especially studying and doing homework.
Meghan sums up this scenario candidly, “Considering AP classes, if AP courses are taken in the fall term, students have to wait a whole term to take the test with no teaching. If AP classes are taken in the spring term, students and teachers might have to rush to finish the material, if they can even finish at all, before the tests in May.”
This leads students and parents to seek answers to the following questions: How will students remember the material learned months prior to the AP tests? Will the exams be rescheduled due to this conflict? Because a year’s worth of curriculum is covered in half a year, will students still receive the support and attention they need to succeed?
I reached out to CHS counselors Ms. Lindsay Goldman and Mr. Morgan Cummins for input for these questions, but they either did not respond or declined to respond.
Student Mental Health
With rigorous classwork and hours of homework comes stress, anxiety, and a concern for students’ mental health. Not to mention, the global pandemic has taken a toll on each and every single one of us. CHS holds deep concerns for Islanders’ emotional health, and some may find the new schedule challenging to balance.
Zoe shared, “It is inconsiderate to implement an entirely new schedule after students have lived through dramatic historical events. This global pandemic has negatively affected the mental health of so many students, and after this year I think we all need a sense of consistency and normalcy. Students had finally started to adjust to hybrid and online learning but switching to a 4×4 will require students to completely restart and this will increase stress levels.”
Zack also shared that he feels like he will be “very stressed out a large amount of the school year” due to the expected homework and tests. Meghan expressed how the additional homework along with school sports might extend her night hours later, possibly causing her to have fewer hours of sleep.
However, Ms. Burling believes that if students and their families take advantage of strategic off-roll periods, the new schedule will be designed to help students feel less overwhelmed. She thinks that the biggest challenge Islanders may face next school year is accepting the fact that it is perfectly fine to not enroll in every period every term.
She posed the question, “Is there the opportunity for students to take one more than they should? Yes. But that is not a problem new to our school because of 4×4. Student anxiety is a problem we have long dealt with because we’re a highly competitive school. We have a great support team in place, though, to help students make balanced choices, and to support them if they do become overwhelmed.”
Ms. Burling is hopeful that course load related stress will decrease once Islanders have fewer courses to juggle at one time.
With these questions and concerns, is there a solution? The Coronado School Board has already approved the new schedule, but Zoe believes there is another way.
“I truly believe that this is not a good year to implement this schedule. If administration is still pushing to put the four by four in place, doing so in the year of 2022-2023 would be the best option,” Zoe suggested. “This way, students will have time to think about the schedule and the transition will not be as challenging.”
Islanders would have had a year of normalcy before preparing for the switch and executing it in a year’s time.
“If administration does not want to continue with it, we could make small changes to our current schedule such as the addition of a first period off roll,” Zoe also shared.
“I personally think this will be a positive change for our school in the long run. This is a big change, and it’s natural for change to feel scary, but after speaking with numerous teachers from various 4×4 schools around our region, I feel confident that the pros outweigh the cons,” Ms. Burling concluded.
When the 2021-2022 school year begins late next month on August 26, Islanders will experience a drastic change to their class schedules with the four by four, to be soon followed by answers to many of these questions currently posed by students and teachers alike.
Related 4×4 information: coronadotimes.com/news/tag/4×4-schedule/