Schedule changes aim to improve online learning

Principal Ellen Reilly makes schedule changes in hopes of helping students’ mental health

HT FLEX — After Dr. Reilly’s changes to the calendar, every Highlander time becomes Highlander Time Flex. This change is aimed to give students more time to work with teachers, and get ahead on homework. (Gianna Russo)

Going into the 2020-2021 school year, students and faculty have all been impacted by COVID-19 and forced to make many adjustments. With the increasing stress levels and decreasing grades of students, principal Dr. Ellen Reilly decided to take action. Reilly decided to make every Highlander Time (HT) into HT Flex and take away asynchronous work that was assigned on Mondays.
Until recently, McLean tried to maintain a normal HT rotation where each HT students would go to a different class and the class would switch daily. Under the new measures taken by Dr. Reilly, regular HT has become HT Flex, where students are given opportunities to meet with teachers and hold club meetings freely.
“HT Flex is really helpful for me because it gives me time to take a break from my computer,” junior Claire Trocchio said. “I can talk to my teachers and get homework done.”
Teachers had also assigned asynchronous work on Mondays and held office hours on Monday mornings. This has been changed to where no additional work is assigned and students meet during HT Flex instead of Monday mornings.
“Office hours on Monday were easy [to change] because nobody was accessing the hours in the morning so teachers were sitting and waiting for kids but nobody was coming. This time could instead be used for both students and teachers to get away from their screens and go outdoors,” Reilly said.
Asynchronous Mondays were intended to help students prepare for the school week and to give time for them to catch up on work. However, teachers slowly began to assign more work on Mondays, which eventually added more stress on the students.
“The goal was to help students organize. It wasn’t to add more work,” Reilly said.
The increased workload as well as the new system of online school has affected students more than anyone could have ever imagined. All these factors, including the stress of living in a global pandemic, were evident in the decision to alter the schedules.
“Students’ mental health has always been one of our top priorities, and now it seems to be even…higher priority. I think it is much more serious now,” Reilly said
School-wide grades are clear indicators that show stress levels and overall mental health are taking a toll for students this year. Although it is only a quarter into the school year, grades are l significantly lower than in previous years.
“Halfway through the quarter we got a list and saw grades of D’s and F’s were almost four times higher than ever before,” Reilly said.
The stress students receive is often noted, but not as much help is provided by the school staff on the matter. However, recognizing the problem this year, teachers, counselors, and other staff members have been working harder than ever to help students with these issues.
“I think students are still trying to navigate this virtual setting, and with that might come some increased anxiety,” counselor Gregory Olcott said. “All staff members are doing their very best to support our students in these difficult times.”
One of the most challenging aspects of online learning is that there is a lack of communication between students and teachers. Students are no longer able to meet face to face with their teachers outside of class, making Highlander Time extra important for communications.
“Junior year is already a much more difficult year because of the classes I’m taking, but being online makes it even harder because I can’t reach out to teachers like I used to do in school,” Trocchio said. “Having HT Flex helps with this challenge because then I can go talk to whichever teacher I need to.”