Next Steps Beyond Zero Period

Superintendent McGee's decision to eliminate academic classes in zero period at Gunn next year makes good sense. Well over a hundred local doctors, the pediatricians at PAMF, the HEARD alliance for adolescent mental health, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have all weighed in to underline the importance of school start times that build in time for students to sleep. (For more on the evidence, see my earlier blog post). If you can, come to the May 12 school board meeting to offer your support -- zero period will be discussed during an item on Gunn's proposed new block schedule. Email me for details.

But eliminating zero period is only half the job, since for many students zero period is a coping strategy for dealing with constraints coming from two main sources: homework load, and sports scheduling. On the school board, I will advocate for tackling these issues next. 

When I talk to students about zero period, and read responses to student surveys, one fact leaps out: for many students, going to school early is a way to get more time for homework. This shouldn’t come as a surprise: in a recent survey, 76% of Gunn students reported that they skip sleep to do their homework. Students shouldn't have to choose between sleep -- whether getting up to go to school early, or staying up late -- and finishing their homework. I recently met three Paly student-athletes who told me that they spend five to six hours per night on their homework, and stay up until 1am in order to do it. Finally implementing the homework policy and reducing homework load where it is excessive should be a critical priority for the district, and I'm pleased that Dr. McGee has taken some strong steps in that direction.

stacking.jpgA related issue is "test and project stacking" -- the work overload that students face when multiple assignments, tests, and projects all fall on the same day or few days. Test and project stacking is perennially one of the top few sources of student stress on surveys. In the 2010 Palo Alto Youth Council survey, three-quarters of Gunn and Paly students said that work pileups caused them stress. When I visited Gunn several weeks ago to speak with students, this was their number one complaint. In fact, addressing test and project stacking was a major "focused" goal for PAUSD in 2011-12 -- but when no progress was made, the school board decided not to renew the goal, and no real progress has been made since. (Actually, I appealed to the school board in September 2012 to renew this goal, as you can see in this video, beginning at 24:16). I will focus on making concrete progress on this issue for students, including getting all student assignments into the Schoology calendar so that everyone -- students, teachers, and parents -- can easily see what is due, and when.

Another "benefit" to academic classes in zero period for Gunn students has been in avoiding missing a last-period class for sports competitions. Paly addresses this problem by hand-scheduling athletes, as Paly assistant principal Kathy Laurence has told the school board, which is probably made simpler by the block schedule that Paly currently has and that Gunn will very likely be adopting soon. Beyond these measures, I plan to propose that staff explore with other schools how we can schedule athletic competitions so that they impinge less on school time.

REMINDER: If you haven't already, remember to vote for Measure A, our school parcel tax. Ballots are mail-in only, and need to be postmarked by this Tuesday, May 5. For more information on Measure A, see my blog post and the Measure A campaign site.



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