School responsibilities consume students’ free time

Picture of students in Trevor Brady’s AP Gov/Econ class working on assignments (Photo: Annika Umholtz, The Puma Prensa)

By Annika Umholtz, staff writer

School days can feel agonizingly long. Many students and staff are disheartened to find that by the time they get home and are finally able to relax, their day is already almost over. Time is precious, so how much of it are we actually giving up? 

According to the California Department of Education (CDE), high school students must spend at least 64,800 minutes in school across 180 days. That divides into exactly six hours per day. Assuming you sleep for eight hours every night and are awake for 16 hours a day, you spend 37.5% of the time you are awake in school on an average school day. And assuming you also have about two hours of homework every night, you spend 50% of your waking hours on schoolwork. 

While offering half of your day up to studies may seem reasonable to some, every student’s schedule is different, and they likely have additional tasks such as jobs, sports, volunteering, hobbies, or family responsibilities. The current way Maria Carrillo High School’s hours are arranged can make it difficult for some students to participate in additional activities other than school. 

One senior, Rachel Reynolds, devotes an additional 14 hours of her time to volleyball weekly. “It’s two hours per practice, and we have three practices every week. It’s also about four hours per game and we play two of those every week,” she says. Reynolds also usually spends three hours on homework per day due to her higher-level classes. So, on a day Reynolds has practice, 68.75% of her time is spent working hard, considering school hours, homework, and volleyball. If she has a game, then 81.25% of the time she spends awake will be busy that day. And all of this is without considering any outside jobs she may have, helping family, getting ready for school, or her commutes. 

Sports are clearly a big time commitment, but certain students also have after school jobs. Senior Grace Zucco has 15-hour work weeks—approximately 2.1 hours a day—and spends two-and-a-half hours on homework and 0.6 hours on managing Mindfulness Club, so she devotes a whole 70% of her wakeful time to working throughout the day. 

And these percentages have the potential to get even larger. 

Some students take extra classes outside of normal school hours. Jocelyn Alvarez,  senior, is taking another educational course online. She describes usually needing three hours a night to complete her homework, but at times, she spends up to seven hours finishing assignments. Including Alvarez’s commute to school, getting ready in the morning, and her six-hour school day, she spends 71.25% of her awake time busy when she has an average amount of homework, but during those crazy weeks that she’s drowned in work, it’s 96.25%.

Picture of a student in the library working hard on homework 40 minutes before school even starts. 

Fractions and percentages like these are heard frequently; people spend a third of their life sleeping, office workers spend about a fifth of the year in front of computers, and likewise, about a quarter of your life is spent going to school. Twenty-five percent may seem like a minor amount in the grand scheme of things, but as students, that quarter of your life is all you’ve lived so far. Thus, most of our attention is focused on our school lives, so we should make sure we’re making the most of it. Time is valuable, and students should be aware of how much of it they’re giving up. 

Some teachers argue Advocacy already accommodates student work loads enough, but Advocacy is only 42 minutes long. And for students who struggle to work in chaotic settings, it can be near impossible to actually accomplish anything. To make up for this, there’s a study spot in the library also open during that time, but even then, quiet and open spaces are not guaranteed, and more often than not, the noise is deafening. In addition, not all time spent in Advocacy can be devoted to homework. Students also need to watch Carrillo Live and travel to other teachers‘ classes, and sometimes there are special events like rallies that happen during this interval. Advocacy is an unreliable work period that—even when used to its full potential—could never take away the strain of a two-to-three hour daily homework load. 

Scott Wallach, social science and former Leadership teacher, conveyed some concern in regard to these tight schedules as well. He explained that while the state decides the amount of time we have to spend in school—the priorly stated 64,800 required instructional minutes—the Santa Rosa Teachers Association (SRTA) can arrange that time however they see fit. Teachers, counselors, and psychologists at Maria Carrillo take a vote on what they want the schedule to look like. The bell schedule requires a 66% majority in order to get passed. It gets approved by the district and the SRTA executive board, and finally, it gets voted on again by SRTA members at MCHS and it’s officially passed if it gets another 66% majority. 

Originally, the block schedule was instigated by Maria Carrillo’s first principal, Pam Devlin, when the school was created. The idea, as Wallach was told when he joined the staff, was to emphasizehow longer blocks gave teachers time to go more in-depth and for students to get more instructional time. Nonetheless, Wallach seems to consider this idea outdated as he expressed that he’d “love to see shorter blocks, more opportunities to easily take seven classes, a schedule that allows students time to have a free period built into their day, more opportunities to take electives, and enough time to keep up with current and new work, since that’s often a struggle.” Wallach hopes to give students leeway to complete assignments so their weekends could stay free. 

Normalizing free periods, as Wallach suggests, and allowing students time to take a variety of classes without getting bogged down by homework will help encourage a creative and broad education. Maria Carrillo has an extensive list of electives that are available to students that can add variety to their learning, but we hardly ever get the chance to actually experience all the ones we want to learn from. Rearranging the schedule in a way that permits taking these classes without costing students the whole day will make all of the time we have to give up to school more efficient and worth it.

The school attempted to help students manage these large homework loads last year by implementing the Wednesday schedule inspired by the quarantine’s sudden shift in school hours. Wallach had hoped that Wednesdays would be offered to students as catch up and check-in time, but some teachers use Wednesdays as test days instead. While not used as intended, Wallach explains that he would never want this time to be directly regulated by the district since he respects teachers’ ability to put together their own lesson plans. 

Based on all of this information, it becomes clear that spending less time in school during a given day is desirable, even if that were to mean we spend more days in school overall. CDE regulations restrict the school day from being any less than six hours, so it’s more reasonable to change how we spend those six hours by shortening block periods, allowing students a chance to try new things by offering the opportunity to take more electives, and by giving us the time needed to complete homework during school days so that weekends are days devoted to rest and personal hobbies. 

Davis Senior High School presents one example of an alternative schedule where on Mondays and Fridays they have seven periods, on Tuesdays and Thursdays they have five periods, and on Wednesday they go to four classes. This allows for shorter periods while their average student schedule also makes room for seven different classes without needing to wake up early for zero period. They were able to fit another class period into their schedule while still starting at 8:30 in the morning and ending at 3:30 in the afternoon, a first and last bell schedule very similar to Carrillo’s. Davis is able to remain inside CDE’s required instructional minutes and offer more classes without sacrificing students’ precious time. Not all students may be happy going to four or five classes everyday, but it at least goes to show that there are other, possibly more efficient ways, to organize our schedules. 

Students and teachers alike wish we had all the time in the world to produce quality work for classes, but there’s a lot going on for students in high school. We go through a lot of changes, we have to suddenly make decisions that affect our futures, and we have to save time for ourselves so we can experience fun things. Taking care of these responsibilities is always a balancing act. So, it’s important to remember that there’s more to life than just school, and students should be allowed to live those parts of their lives. 

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