Sunday, December 15, 2019

High School Flex – The Whole Story

By: Madison Welsted/Content Editor

When Blue Ridge High School students returned to school this year, they learned of a schedule change that continues to spark conversation. 

The daily flex period, traditionally a 30-minute period for students to catch up on work, make up tests, and attend club meetings, was restructured to help support a character building initiative. The initiative was inspired by a successful Halifax Middle and High School program that organizes students into multi-grade small groups to participate in discussions and activities which, according to that school’s website, are “specifically designed to help them to develop good character, to make better choices, and to act with responsibility and consideration.” 

The renovated structure of flex limits what was formerly a daily study hall time to just Tuesdays and Thursdays, making room for character education on Mondays, while Wednesdays are now dedicated to silent reading, and Fridays now alternate between career advisement, which is a state requirement, and club meetings. 

Shauna Williams, a Blue Ridge guidance counselor, says the Monday character building days are meant to help students form bonds with other students they might otherwise not come in contact with on a regular basis, and hopefully help more students feel like they belong. 

“Our counselors have been looking into beneficial programs for students over the years, and found that there is strong evidence to support the grouping of students from all grade levels and interests to participate in character building activities. It actually decreases drop-out rates and benefits school climates,” says Williams.

According to Blue Ridge High School Principal Casey Webster, “Our school is required to show evidence that we are promoting a positive school environment.”

“Mental health is an important part in all of our lives. I understand that not everyone is comfortable or understands this fully, but as a school we benefit by being a support to those who need it and don’t speak up,” says Webster. 

English teacher Kimberly Davenport likes the idea of having a diversified group in her flex period “to develop a type of support team for students.”

“The videos I watched about this plan [Halifax program] were very impressive and the program seems effective. I like the idea of team-building activities to help carry out the goal of bringing students together by breaking down barriers. I really would like to see isolated students who suffer socially feel included in their flex groups and feel included in our school. The one negative I see with the flex plan is that when students are crunched for study time, they are not as invested in the activity days,” says Davenport.

For Blue Ridge students who have depended on flex as a dedicated study hall, the transition has not been an easy one.

Senior class president Gia Fiore says, “We can’t utilize flex to the fullest, especially as AP students, because we are separated from classmates and teachers.”

Junior Mason Conklin, who takes three AP classes and is heavily involved in extracurricular activities, including juggling theater, chorus, and sports, says he needs flex period to complete his school work. 

“My work load adds up, and I am short of after-school time. My AP study simply isn’t enough time either. I used to use flex to help catch up, but with the new structure I am unable to complete my work every day and it is stressful,” says Conklin.

Webster says it is important to point out that in the past not all students used their flex period wisely which created a chaotic time for teachers and students alike.

Katie Brown, who teaches high school social studies and English, says she likes the new flex “because it is more structured and students have to use their time wisely.”

Senior Kaelin Hughes says: “Admittedly, I definitely misused the flex period, and now I feel like it’s better than ever.”

Of the Tuesday-Thursday study hall time she says, “These two days of the week ‘force’ us to focus on our academics, which has the potential to boost our grades and push us further in the right direction to academic success.”

Some students, who did not want to give their names, expressed concerns that they are unable to see a teacher outside of class or make up a test if it isn’t a Tuesday or Thursday, and that those who belong to multiple clubs have run into scheduling conflicts on club Fridays. Other students say the character education topics are not necessarily relevant to them. 

Webster acknowledges there are mixed feelings surrounding the new flex, but says “it is a work in progress.”

A flex committee consisting of Webster and student volunteers was formed to promote collaboration between the administration and students when planning future character education days, and to give students an opportunity to examine other aspects of flex.

“While the framework to the new flex isn’t going to be disregarded, I am open to communication and encourage students to meet with me to discuss possible adjustments to flex,” says Webster. 

One compromise suggested by students will start in December which replaces two character education Mondays with more club days.

Madison Welsted
Madison will be a young graduate at 17, but she is looking forward to finishing her senior year of high school. In the future, she plans to earn her master's degree in a major related to psychology, as she aspires to become a one-on-one counselor. She works at Subway and babysits to help save money. In her free time, she likes to read, write, and talk to people, so journalism is a topic of interest to her for sure.

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