J.R. Neiswender | August 24 | Cougar Chronicle

Dear Upper School Families,

We are well aware that this year will bring new challenges for all of us, but some of the changes to the upper school this year will also bring new and exciting opportunities. One of the most noticeable changes is the structure of the new Upper School schedule.

This year’s schedule provides features that will allow students to have a variety of meaningful learning experiences, both academically and extracurricularly. The first notable element is the structure of the class blocks themselves. The academic courses are distributed among eight class periods, providing an additional class period from last year’s schedule, which allows the possibility of another elective offering or some extra study hall time for students. 

To begin each week, Mondays see students and faculty members meeting all eight blocks during the day, so everyone can kick off the week with each of their courses. For the rest of the week, the schedule changes a bit. Because of our athletic periods, two of our eight blocks meet all five days of the week, allowing teams to practice and a few other courses to meet during those times. The other six academic blocks take on a different structure altogether. After their initial Monday meeting, these courses meet twice during the remainder of the week (either Tuesday-Thursday or Wednesday-Friday) in extended, 80-minute class periods. These longer blocks allow for a variety of diversified teaching methods that enhance the learning process for our students. 

Some classes may be broken up into segments where some time is spent learning directly from the teacher, some time is spent working on a project, some time is spent getting students’ questions answered, and some time is spent preparing for the next unit. Teachers can also use this time to deeply dive into reading and writing projects, or complete more complex labs, or engage in other tasks that might not be possible in a shorter class period. Just like any other muscle, the brain thrives when exercised in different and dynamic ways each day, and these extended class periods foster that type of intellectual growth. While these periods may feel challenging to the students at the beginning of the school year, our upper school students are developmentally ready to take on this structure and make the most of these new experiences.

Another important feature of the schedule is that there is meaningful community time built in throughout the week as well. Students are able to share non-academic experiences and community time through a weekly meeting with a student’s advisory group, an all-school assembly (often by “Zoom” at this point in the year), or a POD meeting, where pairs of classes meet together as a group. Having these non-academic gatherings centrally located as key elements within our schedule allows us to use one of our most valuable resources - time - to continue to prioritize the close-knit community feel that is so central to The New School’s mission. 

Additionally, we have two spots during the week where student-created clubs and student government will have opportunities to meet as well. Our Student Council leadership has begun the process of creating structures for these clubs, and they have initiated the process of student council representative elections which will take place soon. Giving our students an opportunity to work together, demonstrate their leadership, and share their interests is an important element of our time together each week in the upper school.  

And the final element of our new schedule is one that we hope we don’t have to use at all, namely our full-time distance learning schedule. We have gotten off to a great start and we hope to remain on campus indefinitely, but if we should have periods of time where we need to move to remote learning for all of our students, we do have a specific distance learning schedule that will take over at that time. And while it doesn’t look exactly like the current on-campus schedule, these two schedules have been specifically designed so there is minimal difference between the two, and students will find great consistency between how and when classes are meeting while on campus and what will happen while off-campus.  

We are very excited about the 2020-21 school year, and we know the new schedule will provide tremendous learning opportunities and meaningful community time for all upper school students.  

J.R. Neiswender

Head of Upper School         

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