With the halt of in-person schooling due to COVID-19, Howard County, like many other school systems across the nation, has had to adapt and overcome the adversities of teaching virtually. Soon enough, a plan was published that made major changes to the 2020-21 school year, and with one semester left to go, the Centennial community looks to reflect on both its successes and shortcomings.
To adjust both staff and students to the massive change, Centennial High School, along with all other Howard County schools, implemented a new 4×4 system. This schedule allows students four classes per semester, each with a forty five-minute period of virtual learning. Classes flow Monday through Friday, with Wednesday being an asynchronous work day. A full semester has been completed under this new schedule, and many Centennial students have shared their opinions and thoughts on both the pros and cons of the 4×4.
As a freshman, Gabby Simmonds originally considered a 4×4 “an interesting approach” to virtual learning. “I was thinking that two quarters for a class wouldn’t be enough time for learning all the material we needed to,” she said.
Michelle Bank, a sophomore at Centennial, felt similarly about the situation. “My initial thoughts were immediately of AP tests. What were we going to do if we had our AP classes first semester? I felt like I would forget everything by the time AP season rolled around,” she noted. “And if we had the AP classes second semester, we wouldn’t be able to cover everything well enough to be prepared for the AP test!” Her concerns were shared by many upperclassmen in the school. AP Tests are a key factor for many students looking to pursue a college education, and by splitting classes into semesters, the student preparation certainly comes into play.
After the first semester of 4×4 was completed, Banks and Simmonds still felt as if the material for each class was rushed. Time constraints often led to teachers cramming information into each class period, and for students taking several APs, retaining so much knowledge was a formidable task to undergo.
“When other classes in the future depend on the classes we take now, it becomes very difficult to have all those learning gaps,” said Bank. “It’s stressful and distressing to have the gap in time.”
Not only can long term learning gaps affect students, but gaps between class connections as well. Simmonds is disappointed that she could not connect with her teachers and fellow classmates she had in years prior. “I got a bit attached to the first four classes in the first semester,” she said. “So it was a bit sad to disconnect from them so quickly.”
Yet, the anxiety was not all imperative. Students found that processing information and work for four classes rather than seven was a much easier feat.
“Everything was much more manageable,” Simmonds claimed. “Despite everything, I think we managed to get the important units in [for each class].”
For hyperactive learners like Bank, a 4×4 was a healthier way to go about virtual learning. “I get to focus and apply myself to learning more in 4×4. I enjoyed the fast paced nature of the classes and I feel like in the virtual setting, 4×4 was appropriate,” Bank said. “I don’t think I would be able to focus on seven classes at once while learning online.”
Likewise, for senior Flynn Djan, workloads became easier to manage. “I never realized how rigorous and unable of focusing I was having seven classes a day,” they said. “I enjoy being able to do homework in the long gap, and also only having to focus for forty minute intervals.”
With a full semester down, and only one to go, it’s time to start thinking about what possibilities the next year holds for Centennial. Though not returning next year, Djan shared their ideas about the school system continuing a permanent 4×4 schedule.
“For me, as time constraining as 4×4 is, I think it’ll be nice,” they expressed. “It gives a lot of time for students to vibe.”
As an eager freshman, Simmonds felt the situation could go either way, and shared which version of school would be best for each. “I think it depends on the type of learning we have next year,” noted Simmonds. “If we have school fully in person, I feel it would be okay to go back to seven periods, but if it’s virtual or hybrid, I think the 4×4 schedule would be good.”
Bank, on the other hand, had more worries about long lasting impacts a 4×4 might have on the learning process. “Although it may be less stressful at the time, I think we will see the effects of 4×4 in the upcoming years.”
Regardless, like most of the situations involving education during a pandemic, there is a lot of uncertainty, and therefore possibility for change at the flip of a coin. For now, all we can do is wait and see what next year brings.
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