Earlier in the year, I wrote about two of the issues that we focused on in the ISACS reaccreditation process — cultural competency and technology. Today I would like to share a bit about a third area — balance.
One of the great challenges of a school like Burroughs is that there are so many incredible opportunities for our students and there simply is not enough time for each of our students to take advantage of all of them. We started work with an essential question: What should we do differently as a school community to help our students sustain schedules and commitments that support intellectual focus, pursuit of students’ individual interests, healthful lifestyles and meaningful personal interactions?
One of the major recommendations of the work was for us to look at the school calendar. With the research in hand, we have made some substantial changes to next year's calendar that I hope you will review. Our goal was to expand the length of the year slightly without increasing the amount of class time or number of meeting days. Our hope is to give students a few breaks during high-stress periods. The major changes include
- starting school on Thursday, August 25, so that the first week is a short one,
- lengthening both fall and spring exam periods so that students will only have one exam per day,
- adding a day off in the spring term so that students may take a break and catch up, and
- moving graduation to Sunday evening, June 4.
In addition to the calendar, the school has undertaken a number of other initiatives over the past five years to improve the balance in students' lives while ensuring that the programs don't become diluted.
In the academic program we have
- increased the number of late start days to allow students to meet with teachers or catch up on sleep,
- reduced the meeting times for regular biology and chemistry courses from seven to six times a week,
- moved from trimesters (grades 9-12) to semesters to remove the perception of "high stakes" testing in a shorter winter term,
- added a day off for juniors during AP exams,
- reduced the number of history term papers in the junior year,
- added summer grade-level meetings for faculty to look at student calendars to identify the more difficult times for them,
- improved the advising program,
- adjusted the audition dates for our major productions so that students can make more informed decisions about their art and athletic commitments,
- strengthened our communications about course selections so students and families have all the information they need to choose an appropriate mix of courses each year, and
- initiated significant conversations within our academic departments about homework loads.
In the athletic program we have
- ended virtually all athletic travel (except for state playoff games and tournaments that are scheduled by MSHAA and are beyond our control) that requires students to miss class,
- minimized local travel beyond a ten-mile radius for Monday-Thursday games,
- scheduled fewer Monday-Thursday games,
- imposed a mandatory day off each week for players,
- placed limits on practice time,
- increased the number of coaches who also teach to ensure that they are familiar with the academic requirements of the students, and
- increased the number of non-competitive offerings (dance, outdoor education, yoga, theater, etc.).
It is important to keep in mind that the concern about balance in students' lives is not exclusive to Burroughs. In fact, earlier this month, the New York Times ran an article on student stress, which only reaffirmed the work that we are doing.