The Nine-Hour Day, Part I

You may remember the spectacle of the Parent Imperfect going into a panic when he realized that he had chosen for his daughter a school that would have her in school for nine hours a day. This child is much too busy and restless to be in school that long. I raced to the Hennigan School like a maniac and accosted the poor woman who took care of the school choice forms until she gave me back Connie’s form so that I could change the order of her middle school options.

It mattered not. The bizarre sorting hat that is the BPS assignment process gave us neither of the schools we chose over the Washington Irving Middle School, so we ended up in our walk-zone middle school. This is, of course, the gold standard of assignment nirvana, so we should feel very lucky.

During the weeks after we made our choice, Connie discovered that most of her closest friends from the Hennigan would be joining her at the Irving, so she started to feel better about it. Her best friend, who lives closer to the Irving than we do, had chosen another school because an older sibling had lived through a terrible three years at the Irving in an earlier time. Post-traumatic-BPS-stress goes away very slowly, if at all.

So Connie is now seven weeks into her Irving career. She has memorized the Warrior Creed and gotten used to wearing a uniform each day and keeping her shirt tucked in. She notices that there is very little fighting or bullying at the school…less than at either of her two previous BPs schools. This surprises her, given what she had heard about the Irving.

She loves changing classes like her brother has been doing for years, but she can’t get used to the fact that she can’t go to the bathroom for the last 15 minutes or the first 15 minutes of any class period. Because there is always a line after Prohibition, that can mean that she needs to wait 45 minutes to use the bathroom, which is not ideal at all for a girl of her age. What social deviance are we avoiding with this unique form of collective punishment?

Nine hours is a very long time to be in school each day. We are aware of all of the research extolling the virtues of extended confinement for young people, and I expect that the Extended Learning Time at the Irving will improve student performance at the school. As it’s now being done at the school, it is not great for Connie.

One presumed benefit of the longer day is more academic time. I don’t see it. Connie has three “academic” classes each day: Math, ELA and Social Studies. These are generally long periods of 80 minutes. She’s really excited about one of her teachers, OK with another, and very disappointed with the third. She has no Science course during this first half of the year. Science will be substituted for Social Studies in the second semester.

When we were choosing schools, the principal at the Irving (Arthur Unobsky) was quite accessible. I should say that I like him (from a distance, I don’t really know him) and have great respect for his commitment to the school and for the leadership he is providing. On one rainy day, I went to the school at dismissal to pick Connie up. There was Arthur, standing out in the rain in his suit in front of the dreaded Triple Eatery. He was holding a (wet) radio in his hand and talking to the kids as they hurried past him. I wasn’t sure if I should be in awe of the man’s commitment, or wondering if the guy knows enough to get in out of the rain. In twenty total years in the BPS, this is the first year that either of our children has been in a school led by a male principal.

On three separate occasions, Mr. Unobsky ASSURED me that there would be language options for sixth graders this year (specifically Spanish, but any would do). There are no language options, which is disappointing for both Connie and myself. I don’t know if it matters to anyone else.

Connie also has a Visual Arts class that she loves. I believe she has it twice a week. The teacher really impressed both Liz and I when we went to the school’s well-attended Parent Open House in September. The girl is now drawing in her free time for the first time in many years, which is very nice to see.

Her fifth core class for this half-year is Phys. Ed., which she has three times per week. I believe that the gym period is shorter than the academic periods, but I’m not sure. This could be an extremely important part of the Extended Learning Time program, but Connie (who likes her Phys. Ed. teacher) complains that he has a penchant for long lectures in class, which is the last thing she needs during her only chance for physical activity. His female sidekick is less this way, but she is on family leave, apparently. When there is physical activity, it’s usually “student-directed activity.” As near as I can tell, that means throwing some equipment in the middle of the floor and letting the kids direct their own play. I see a place for this, for sure, but in combination with long lectures, this is a very big missed opportunity.

A recent public radio report examined an Extended Day program at a school in Lawrence, MA that has decided to place at the center of its approach a commitment to physical activity for the kids. Students apparently get over two hours of physical activity per day in two or three periods, and the Phys. Ed. is designed to provide both intentional skill/confidence building and leadership opportunities. No radio show can convince me, but this approach makes a world of sense. The Lawrence program claims that the physical activity is greatly improving academic results at the school, but talk is cheap. Even if this was a fib, I’d still be in favor of making intentional physical activity a cornerstone of any extended day program for elementary and middle schoolers.

Connie, who is an active child still participating in a demanding gymnastics program, is gaining weight at the Irving School. It is also harder for her to do her gymnastics because of the longer school day.

There is much more to say about the Nine-Hour Day, but that’s enough for now. Seven weeks in, it’s been a decidedly mixed bag for Connie. The Irving is moving in a positive direction, and the staff and parent leadership definitely want to make it a school that all students will opt to attend for all three years of middle school. Honestly, that’s not likely for Connie, given the way the incentives work in the BPS, but nor is it something that we are completely closed to. After all, we have our own traumatic-BPS-stress that’s not yet “post.”  For her to stay at the Irving, however, the Extended Learning Time program would have to receive some pretty significant tweaks.


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