Mundelein High considering ending block schedule

  • Mundelein High School officials are considering changing the school's block schedule, which calls for four periods each day instead of the traditional eight.

    Mundelein High School officials are considering changing the school's block schedule, which calls for four periods each day instead of the traditional eight. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer 2013

 
 
Updated 2/11/2016 6:41 PM

Mundelein High School officials are considering ditching the school's unusual block schedule, which calls for four class periods a day instead of the traditional eight.

But some people -- including parents and students -- want the current schedule to stay, saying it's less stressful for teens.

 

Mundelein High's block schedule has been in place since the 1996-97 school year. The move followed more than two years of internal study.

Instead of eight, 50-minute periods each day, students have four, 90-minute sessions under the block schedule. Proponents say the longer periods allow more time for hands-on learning and discourage long lectures. Students have fewer classes each semester, but they can have a more diverse schedule over a high school career because courses are completed quicker.

But it has deficiencies, too.

Most significantly, because students don't necessarily study the same subject for a full year under the block schedule, teens may forget material in the gap between courses.

"A student could have French I the first half of one year and not have French II until the second half of the next year," Mundelein High spokesman Ron Girard said. "(This) causes the teacher in the second course to spend several weeks reviewing the first course."

The block schedule also creates issues for some students in more rigorous AP classes, Girard said.

"If students take an AP course during the first two terms (of the year), they still don't take the national AP exam until May," he said. "There is a large gap of time where they are not studying the course they will be tested on."

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Additionally, some students struggle in 90-minute classes, Girard said.

"They just can't handle 90 minutes every day," he said. "Their attention span doesn't last nearly that long."

But the block schedule definitely has fans.

"It's so much easier to focus on four classes, on four class assignments, on four exams ... than eight," said Jennifer Brunkow, the parent of a Mundelein High junior.

Brunkow also believes the block schedule gives kids greater opportunities for extracurriculars. If teens have homework in four classes, she said, there's more time for athletics or other activities.

She has created an online petition calling for the school to stick with the block schedule. As of Thursday, about 900 people, including current and former Mundelein students, had signed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Girard is aware of the petition and called some of the comments on the site "passionate and heartfelt." But he pointed out some misconceptions, too.

Primarily, an eight-period day doesn't mean kids are taking eight classes each day, Girard said. Such a schedule typically includes periods for lunch and study hall.

"Some kids even go for five classes and two study halls so they can get most of their work done during the school day," he said.

Some highly motivated students may opt to take classes every period, Girard said, "but it is by no means the norm."

Mundelein High officials also investigated ending the block schedule in 2004 but took no action. It's coming up now because a long-range planning committee of community and staff members formed in 2014 proclaimed it the school's top issue.

A second group subsequently examined the schedule and proposed four options at a board meeting last month. Two were versions of the traditional eight-period day, while two were modified block schedules that mixed four- and eight-period days during the week.

In response, the school board created a new committee to continue researching the issue, develop more options and to propose a bell schedule. A recommendation is expected this spring. If the board opts to jettison the block schedule, no changes would be made until the 2017-18 term, Girard said.

Mundelein High wouldn't be the first suburban school to abandon a block schedule. Wauconda High, Dundee-Crown High in Carpentersville and Jacobs High in Algonquin all tried it but reverted to traditional school days. Conversely, a committee recently recommended Barrington High adopt a block schedule.

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