A letter from a former student

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March 1, 2017 by stoptheblockhvrhs

Shayne Dodge, HVRHS class of 2014, wrote a thoughtful letter to the board of ed., contrasting her experiences both at HVRHS and at a school in North Carolina that utilized a block schedule.  Last night, Shayne sent us this letter to post here.  Thanks, Shayne, for taking time out of your studies at UVM.

To whom it may concern,

My name is Shayne Dodge, and I am a part of the Housatonic Valley Regional High School graduating class of 2014. It has recently come to my attention that HVRHS is attempting to make the switch from its current modified block schedule to a “Four by Four” scheduling method. My sophomore year, I was also part of the Eugene Ashley High School Class of 2014. During my brief period of time at this school in North Carolina, I was able to experience both transitioning into a Four by Four rotation as well transitioning out of one and into a modified block schedule. With this experience, I hope to strongly caution, if not advise the Region One Board of Education against this decision.
I was fortunate enough to start my high school education at Housatonic, a luxury I did not appreciate. For my sophomore year, situations out of my control caused me to move with my mother and I found myself in North Carolina. I was immersed in a school of 3,000 kids operating on a Four by Four class schedule. My immediate reaction was relief. With only four classes a day each week, I would have less classes to keep track of, not to mention that I would get to switch classes at the change of the semester as college students did. I assumed that this schedule would better prepare me for college and allow me to transition into my higher education more smoothly. It was only a month however before I realized that this schedule was not what it was advertised to be. As a young student with aspirations of medical school, I lept at the opportunity to take more than one science class in a single semester. However, by focusing on what my education needed, I found that I no longer had room for what I wanted. Unlike in college, students cannot pick how many classes they join each semester in a Four by Four class schedule. As the name implies, each student is allotted four classes. I could no longer take art classes because it conflicted with my civics requirement. I could no longer be a part of music classes because that would mean not taking one of my language requirements. Rather than further allowing me to to expand my education and prepare me for college, this schedule restricted my options and forced me down a narrow path. As the semester wore on, hour and a half long classes began to drag by slower than ever, depleting my motivation and focus. School was no longer enjoyable – it was monotonous.
For my Junior year I made the decision to return to HVRHS. I was prepared to come back to the same school I had left, with the same peers, and to start learning more subjects with more vigor. Again though, I was wrong. In my time in North Carolina, I had been left in the dust. Classes that I had taken first semester of my sophomore year were fresh in my class mates minds, giving them an advantage in fast paced classrooms. Material that I was forced to skim over in North Carolina, due to the single semester time constraint, had been taught in detail over the course of an entire year at HVRHS. I was forced to readapt to shorter class times, more pointed teaching, and to relearn my time management and organization skills. Switching from managing four classes to eight classes seemed like an impossible task that my peers were handling with ease. With time, and support from the amazing faculty and staff at HVRHS, I was able to get back on track and begin taking full advantage of the multifaceted and fine tuned education that this school offers. However it was no thanks to the Four by Four schedule that I had experienced.
After graduating with my class in 2014, I moved on to study at University of Vermont. As any upcoming college student does, I worried about what my course load would be. However I felt that I had an advantage. I had seen a Four by Four schedule before. I knew that less classes meant less work to manage. In college however, this is not the case. You will have anywhere from four to six classes each semester, some with lab components that can be classified as a completely separate course. There is an immense amount of time management, organization and work ethic required to succeed. None of which can be properly instilled in a Four by Four class schedule implemented in a high school.
By switching to a Four by Four class schedule, students not only lose freedom in their class choices and schedules , but are given the potential to lose the critical skills needed to succeed in higher education. Students lose the ability to explore their interests in arts, and the amazing supplemental subjects that HVRHS offers. Given the option between taking a Civics course required to graduate, and finding a new talent in an art class with Mr. Prindle, there is no contest as to which class the student will lose in order to appease this restrictive class schedule. There is less time for students to explore the greenhouse with Mr. Moran, or to learn how to change a lawn mower blade as I did with Mr. Burdick. Seeing the same four professors, in the same order, five days a week eludes to a routine and predictability that cannot be counted on at University levels. It can lead to a complacency and monotony that can be more than difficult to rectify.
With this experience, I implore you to see not only the benefits, but the deficits that can arise with the implementation of a Four by Four class schedule in a high school environment. I was once eager to learn using the same structure as a college student, only to find that it does not have the effect that I had hoped. Housatonic Valley Regional High School is already an invaluable educational institution. Without this school, not only would I have never accomplished what I have today, but I would never have been able to rebound from the effects of a year in a Four by Four schedule. I hope that you not only keep in mind how much these young students achieve while they are at HVRHS, but how their education from this incredible school will impact them as they journey into higher education.

Sincerely,

Shayne Dodge
UVM Class of 2018

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