Mr. McNeice, our Associate Head of School for the Upper School (Grades 6-12) at BASIS Independent Fremont, has been completely committed to creating the best possible learning experience for our students this year. In the course of his research in how to support our students and teachers in distance or hybrid learning models, he arrived at a surprising and positive conclusion. Read on to learn what Mr. McNeice has found!
From the Desk of Mr. McNeice:
The start of a new school year has never been more scrutinized, and at BASIS Independent Fremont, we have been preparing our renowned program for this unusual year, to unexpectedly positive results. You have most likely been tracking the news about school re-openings around the country, of studies done about the effects of distance learning, and the constantly updating guidelines about managing risk during a global pandemic. I and the entire BASIS Independent Fremont administration have been closely following this torrent of information, and if anything is clear, it is that there is no overwhelmingly supported conclusion about how this moment in time will play out. I am confident, however, that though distance learning is no permanent substitute for in-person class for students in TK-12, it may provide significant long-term benefits in terms of independent responsibility and time management, and set our students up for greater success in college.
Our students are currently being challenged to build a set of skills that young people don’t typically grapple with until they reach college. Having spent the first few years of my career working in college residence buildings, where I served as a live-in advisor and mentor to freshman students, I became intimately aware of the most common sources of adversity and grief for first-year college students. The lack of a single capacity came up again and again as the ultimate source of many student’s struggles: time management. In my experience, if a first-year student was finding it difficult to transition to college life, if they felt overwhelmed, or if their grades were slipping despite being capable of the work, it was highly likely that the source of their troubles stemmed from an utter lack of organization and time management skills; and it’s not hard to see why this would be such a common problem.
In the American context, the fundamental structures of the typical high school and college schedule are profoundly different. Most high school students have a schedule that actually bears a very close resemblance to that of the adult working world. They start each day at the same time, typically early in the morning. They have a prescribed set of tasks that they need to complete at given times throughout the day. The flow of that day is broken up by a small breaks and is bisected by one large break for lunch. Finally, their “workday” ends in the middle to late afternoon, at which point they’re free to pursue activities of personal interest, complete chores, catch up on any work from the day that still needs to be done, and enjoy some leisure time.
For years now I’ve found it bewildering that this straightforward and consistent routine, that characterizes much of both high school and professional work, would be interrupted for four years by the comparatively fragmented and inconsistent weekly schedule typical of the college experience. Consider for a moment what a typical semester of colleges courses looks like. The standard number of courses to be considered a full-time student is five per term, and most courses are three “credit hours” per week. This means that most college students only spend 15 hours per week in actual class time. What’s more is that there is likely to be very little day-to-day consistency in the distribution of those 15 hours. A student may be in class from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM on Monday, be tied up all day on Tuesday, have a night class from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM on Wednesday, and then have no class at all on Thursday. It’s a mess!
Now, the common wisdom is that a college student should spend two hours studying or independently working for every one hour they spend in class. In total, this adds up to a seemingly reasonable 45 hour work week: 15 hours of class + 30 hours of independent work = 45 hours total. However, unlike the worlds of either high school or professional work, two-thirds of this college student’s time is to be spent doing entirely undirected and asynchronous work! I should note that this was the norm before distance learning became a necessity for many colleges this year. Whether or not this is the ideal structure for college schedules is a question for another day, the reality is that this is the structure our students will face once they reach the world of higher education.
Returning to our own students here at BASIS Independent Fremont, what has been the most consistent and widespread challenge our students have faced since we embarked on our distance learning model last spring? What issue have we dedicated the most time to resolving for our students this year, both as educators and as parents? The largest struggle our students have faced during this transition has been the heightened need for them to manage their own time. While this can be a difficult ask on those nights or weekends when you find yourselves spending time helping your child understand how to plan out their upcoming week, I want to encourage all of us to shift our perspective from looking at these moments as mere irritations, to one where we recognize the immense opportunity they present.
Every week our students spend building autonomy by learning to manage some additional part of their time gets them another step further away from being one of those 18 year olds who would come to see me in the dorms, as midterms approached during their first college semester, to tearfully confess that their world was spinning out of control and they needed help. BASIS Independent Schools graduates have always been among the best prepared students entering their respective colleges of choice, but overcoming this present adversity, and coming out the other side with a new set of associated skills, will put them years ahead of the game in at least one crucial area relevant to college success. I can’t wait to see what they’re capable of once they get there.
I and my entire team at the BASIS Independent Upper School are here to support your student’s learning journey every step of the way. Never hesitate to reach out to us if you have questions; we are here for you.
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