As we kick off the 2021-2022 school year, many students returned with a completely different schedule than that chosen during course selection. (Photo Credit: Raquelle Elson/Photoshop/Achona)
As we kick off the 2021-2022 school year, many students returned with a completely different schedule than that chosen during course selection.

Photo Credit: Raquelle Elson/Photoshop/Achona

What happened: scheduling and this year’s add/drop

September 10, 2021

The first few weeks of school, like any adjustment period, are truly a hectic time. As students find their classrooms, meet new teachers, and demolish their sleeping schedules (and increase their caffeine intake), there is another burden placed on students and teachers alike — the issue of scheduling.

For some, this year seemed to be particularly hectic. Over the summer, numerous students received emails alerting them that some of the classes they chose did not fit into their schedules this year. The reasons varied — some classes did not generate enough interest to be offered at all this year, despite being an option during course selection, and some were offered, but only during one set, meaning other classes had to be dropped in order to accommodate — all of the recipients were tasked with the issue of readjusting their schedules to accommodate for these changes.

While not out of the ordinary, the issue came for some students who had issues with their required classes. Changing electives is a natural part of “fixing” one’s schedule, but when classes required to graduate can’t fit in well, it becomes more stressful to figure out what works best. Some simply changed their planned schedules for future semesters, such as those who were unable to take Economics. However, others had to take a different route, returning to online school. One such student was junior Riley Griess, who chose to take Spanish IV Honors through Florida Virtual School, as both this class and her elective, Engineering Honors, were only offered during one set. Unfortunately, they happened to be running at the same time.

“I was trying to get my STEM designation, and because the only Spanish IV class was during the Engineering class I chose to take engineering. I like [online school] at some points, but I hate it at others. It has been an adjustment.” ”

— Riley Griess ('23)

However, this was only the summer leading up to the school year. The actual beginning of classes brought an entirely new stressor — the infamous add/drop period. 

This time is especially chaotic, and stressful, for those taking Honors and Advanced Placement classes. Many of these classes use this period for an intensive look at the class, in order to prepare the student for the rest of the year and, if need be, urge them to make the decision to drop the class. But when a student is enrolled in many difficult classes, this can be an overwhelming time. However, the pressure is necessary. This rough patch gives many students the opportunity to examine their schedules, as well as their academic abilities, and decide whether or not they are prepared or willing to take that particular class. For many, the decision to drop a class ultimately benefits the student.

AP US History teacher Lori Kearney said, “In AP US History I try to give my students a variety of formative and summative assessments in this two week period so they have some real experiences to make a well informed decision as to whether APUSH is right for them.”

But part of this introductory period, and the reason so many students choose to drop at the beginning of the year, is the lack of regulations around selecting higher level classes. A major part of the independence at Academy is academic freedom with the ability to choose your own classes. While teachers and counselors can offer input, students ultimately choose the classes they like, so long as they fit into their schedule. While this can be beneficial, as students are able to challenge themselves academically, it can also lead to students taking classes they will struggle with immensely, and that may hurt them and their GPA in the long run.

The largest complicating factor to choosing schedules is a broader cultural problem within American schools, especially academically advanced ones such as Academy — the pressure of getting into an elite college. For current-day students, the focus is no longer on getting into a school at all, but rather getting into the best school possible. Many believe that the way to do this is to choose the hardest classes they can, hoping that the extra points from an Honors or AP course will cushion their GPA in the case that their grades lower. But this has negative consequences beyond getting Bs and Cs. It can affect students’ mental health and lead to academic burnout, making them feel unmotivated and emotionally worn out. Students exchange better chances at their dream schools for their mental well being. 

 

As add/drop has revealed, this issue of aiming too high, so to speak, is prominent at Academy. This complex, multifaceted issue warrants a complex, multifaceted solution. And the solution must be preemptive, coming before the school year starts to minimize the chaos of add/drop. 

The first part of the solution must come from the students’ end. We need to learn to set realistic expectations for ourselves, including those of us writing this. This means looking at previous grades and activities outside of school and deciding if it is realistic and healthy to take the classes that we are choosing. During this process, it’s important to remember that the college process is holistic, and does not only take grades into account. Clubs, sports, volunteer work, and other extracurricular activities all add up together to inform admission decisions. 

However, there are also outside factors that could come from academic resources within the Academy in order to make the process easier, and help students keep their expectations realistic. While imposing strict GPA requirements would hurt students’ independence and academic freedom, imposing suggestions or guidelines could help students decide what classes to take. This way, students can use an objective measure such as grades to better inform their decision and clear their own bias.

Additionally, transparency and honest communication between students, teachers, and counselors are needed to aid in the process. When selecting classes, counselors need to be honest with their students about what classes they can and should take. While this should not be done harshly, it is something that students should probably hear.

 

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There also needs to be clear communication from teachers, both especially before classes are chosen. While many have made it clear to students after the school year has started about the difficulty of the class, it may benefit them more to hear it before. It also may benefit them to know exactly what the course entails — the material, pace, and how students will be tested. 

“I really think communication is probably the biggest piece. Being transparent about what the course entails, the pacing, the assignments, and the workload. But you don’t want that to scare even the people who could do well in that class. It has to be in a way that is honest and truthful, but has a lot to do with ‘this is how deep we are going to get into a topic’ and ‘This is how much time you can anticipate studying,’ ” said Learning Resource Specialist Dr. Julie Griess. 

While the second semester is a busy time, especially for AP teachers as they prepare for exams, a presentation or discussion with students about what each class is could greatly aid them in their course selection.

Students could also benefit from one on one time with their teachers prior to course selection about what class they believe they should take next year based on their performance in that teacher’s class. This could be done through individual conferences. While not every student may need one, if after courses are chosen a teacher feels a student has made an inappropriate choice, they could sit down and discuss with them based on their previous work and ability.

However, at the end of the day this is not a foolproof plan. There are always exceptions, students may find that they do not feel comfortable in a course despite being encouraged to take it or they may rise to a challenge and do well in a course they felt dubious about. Because of this, course selection truly remains up to the student. Despite all advice and outside resources, we still have the freedom to choose our paths. 

Additionally, we know this is not an easily fixable problem, and that this solution will not address every issue that may come up. It is an issue that has persisted for years, and most likely will continue to persist, as it is reflective of a larger cultural issue associated with academics in America and the intense focus on college. Yet, while we cannot completely fix this immense issue, we can begin to make leeway with it here by implementing changes into how we build our schedules.

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