A Student’s Perspective on Finals Week

Words: Maryam Elhabashy

For as long as many of us can remember, the last week of school has been either the most or least demanding weeks of the year. In elementary school we strip our cute name tags off of our desks, a far cry from studying for a final exam that holds the promise of success or failure of the entire year’s grade. In years past, students have been lucky enough to have a full week of half days, allowing for a little calm after every final exam’s storm, also offering optimum time for studying. This year we’re not so lucky.

Mother Nature went particularly heavy on the winter weather this year, leaving us with only two half days during exam week.

USA Today reported that according to the “National Survey of Student Engagement’s” findings, students spend an average of 17 hours a week preparing for classes, about 3.4 hours a day. Finals are notorious for requiring more work, more attention, and more time. With the elimination of three half days, students are going to need to re-assess how they apportion their study time. It’s like adding insult to injury, really. Not only are we ending a week later than originally scheduled, we also have to tighten our grips on final exam studying (and sleeping, when possible!).

But do we have the right to complain?

There’s no time like the present. It’s a fitting proverb to describe the highs and lows of the snow day. Ah! The joy of snow days. Every student knows the rush of relief and glee when their parent creeps quietly into their room, still dark as the night at 6 am on a winter morning, and says that school has been cancelled. The glee quickly melts into more z’s on the pillow. That’s the high.

What goes up must come down. It’s the middle of June (after June 10, the originally scheduled last day of school), and I think we’re there. But after eight snow days (glee!) and eight delayed start days this year (a little bit of glee), we knew we were in for some kind of last day adjustment.

That adjustment is actually a lot more complicated than one might think. The Maryland State Department of Education mandates that high schools complete a total of 180 instructional days, that involve 1,170 instructional hours per year. The hours requirement is what changed the originally scheduled half day on Wednesday, June 17, to a full day, and added an hour of instruction on Thursday, June 18.  With five snow days built into the original calendar, and eight days taken, we had three days to make up. Howard County applied for and received a waiver for one of those days, meaning we needed to add two days to the school year somehow.

Though there is little that can be done beyond the waiver to alter the number of hours or school days that students attend in a year (though I’m slightly baffled by Fairfax County’s THIRTEEN snow days!), there are different ways to determine when those hours and days are made up.

Some Maryland counties actually cut days out of Spring Break (personally not a fan of this one!), acknowledging that they might have a lot of absent kids on those days. Most counties also applied for and received waivers just as Howard County did. In other states that are used to harsh and prolonged winter weather, there are numerous options to make up snow days. In Iowa, the Board of Education allows for holding classes on previously designated holidays, professional days, or half day schedules; or increasing instructional time by adding minutes to each school day, holding classes on Saturdays, or adding days to the end of the year (the option Howard County took).

I want to take a closer look at option number one: holding classes on previously scheduled holidays, professional days, or half days. When I took a look back at the calendar, I realized that there were a few opportunities to knock out some snow day make-ups: two days in February for parent-teacher conferences, a half day before Spring Break began, and a professional day in May. This option might have preserved our half-day exam week, as well as cut fewer days from summer break. It’s not uncommon for parents to receive letters from school administrations, explaining calendar alterations due to snow days. I doubt that parents would have been up in arms about having their students stay for full days on parent-teacher conference days. In fact, I’d argue that if there are issues with a student, parents and/or teachers need not wait for the conference days to discuss them. And if there aren’t any complaints or issues, do parents (or teachers) really need to speak for 15 minutes about how awesome a student is? I’d much rather have spent the rest of the day in class in February (typical school year), than add a day of school in the middle of June (summer break!). The same goes for that “bonus” three hours we got on the Friday before Spring Break. I would have much rather kept a full day of summer break!

The bottom line is this: I guess we don’t have any real right to complain. In actuality, with the approved waiver, we only had 179 days of school instead of the originally mandated 180 days. So we can’t crash in bed at 11:30 in the morning on Wednesday the 17; we’ll deal with it.

Admittedly, I’m looking at the situation purely as a high school student. Summer break is hallowed ground, and the bliss of sleeping in on that winter morning is long forgotten. This high school student, with limited knowledge of how complicated snow day make-ups can be, would like to see more thought given to making up snow days on springtime professional days, half-days, and holidays, instead of cracking into summer break and jostling around final exam week.

But then again, if I had it my way, I’d still be pulling my laminated name tag off of a desk, instead of studying all night for a final exam.

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