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Pro / Con: Freedom and Free Periods

March 10, 2017

We Need Lunch

The school administration should take steps to ensure students have a break in the school day.

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Charlie Brennan in the halls  of CHS.

Charlie Brennan in the halls of CHS.

Michael Melinger

Michael Melinger

Charlie Brennan in the halls of CHS.

Two identical-looking golden crowns: one real, one fake.

The mighty Hiero II has ordered you to determine the real one– an impossible task in the first century BC, an age before computers, analytical balances and chemical glassware.

Despite the daunting assignment, you take on the challenge, working day and night, for the answer. After hours spent deep in thought, you decide to take rest in a steamy Greek bath. Slowly, the answer seeps into your head and you hurry to the king. You quickly use your newfound displacement method to discover the true makeup of the crown and astound the world with a new scientific breakthrough.
Archimedes, one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, solved that unworkable problem through the essential utilization of leisure time.
His teachings appear to CHS students every day in Chemistry, Math and Engineering classes, yet Archimedes’ most important lesson is often overlooked
Lunches and free periods often disappear in the push for academic excellence. With only eight periods in the day, many students believe they must cram just one more AP class into their schedules.
These students are misguided. Rest is most important when recalling information and performing under high stress situations. According to the Ohio State University Memory Tips, “When you’re relaxed, you absorb new information quickly and recall it with greater ease and accuracy.”
But this is not new information and Clayton is an exception to many other schools, allowing students to have lunch free schedules. Homer Turner, Junior Grade Level Counselor, said, “Coming to Clayton, this was new to me seeing students without lunches built into their schedules. Then I found out there were even some students who not only did not have a lunch period but also did not have a free period in their schedules. I feel like it is an unhealthy situation to be encouraging.”
Turner, a newcomer to CHS from Newton South High School near Boston, MA, said, “At my old school, which was very similar to Clayton, the students all had lunches built into their schedules. And the rigor was just the same. They were just as high achieving. However, the way they used that period was up to them: whether they used the period as a free period, to seek help from a teacher, to make up a test, or to just have some down time.”
In addition to the free period, the absence of that fifth AP course will lighten a student’s schedule providing more time for sports, personal interests and, most importantly, sleep.
Sleep is essential in retaining information. The consolidation of the day’s memories occurs during sleep making it essential in creating long term memories. Moreover, physical recovery, growth and development are all stimulated during sleep.
According to the National Institute of Health, “A common myth is that people can learn to get by on little sleep with no negative effects. However, research shows that getting enough quality sleep at the right times is vital for mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety.”
Still, one of the main concerns students have is the fear of falling behind the competition. High achieving students raised in the competitive Clayton environment are taught these detrimental lessons before positive ones can be instilled.
As a long time counselor and observer of the college admissions process, Turner testifies, “I reached out to some deans of admissions of some very selective schools (the University of Pennsylvania, George Washington University, Harvey Mudd College) and I threw the question about students having lunches to them and not one came back and said that was fine. Colleges are interested in kids coming to their campuses with a healthy predisposition about what education is about.”
The high achieving Clayton mindset must shift its focus from the relentless pursuit of transcript building AP classes to the true learning for learning’s sake.
Turner said, “Colleges feel that kids who believe they are okay and don’t need a break come to their schools with the wrong type of mentality. They want kids to come to their schools who have balance: good, healthy balance. Balance means rigor plus a down time.”
Ultimately, students are still growing. Their brains have not fully developed, and, although Clayton leniently provides many opportunities for students to exercise their independence, mental and physical harm should not result from that freedom.
If students take the time to enjoy high school, they will be not only enjoying better mental health, but they will also learn to manage their spare time. Opening their minds to the possibility of a break may result in their own “Eureka” moment.

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Let the Students Decide

The school should let students exercise their individual independence when it comes to their schedule.

Michael Melinger

Michael Melinger

On the Clayton High School website, the mission statement is listed as follows: “We inspire each student to love learning and embrace challenge within a rich and rigorous academic culture.” Given this mission, it seems both contrary and counterproductive to discourage students from taking the most rigorous classes they believe themselves to be capable of.
However, this past year, Homer Turner, junior grade level counselor, implemented a new policy that nearly requires each student to have a lunch or free period built into his or her schedule. While it is still possible for students to go without a free period, Turner is requiring students to first write a paragraph explaining their choice and justifying why it is absolutely necessary. Additionally, the student’s parents must call and make a similar argument.
Granted, Turner’s policy does not prevent any truly determined student from taking their desired courses, but it does provide an extra obstacle that will likely deter many students. As an educational institution that prides itself on teaching students to embrace challenge, CHS should be supporting these students’ efforts and initiative rather than discouraging them.
Furthermore, CHS’s core values include promoting student independence that will better prepare students for their futures as citizens. CHS embodies this value by giving students freedom and responsibility unusual at many public high schools. This spirit of trust should be extended to students’ schedules as well. Effectively managing commitments is a valuable life skill and students would benefit from practicing this skill at the high school level. Students know what they are capable of better than anyone and if a student feels they are not being challenged, they should be supported, not discouraged, in their efforts to better their learning.
And while these requirements ensure that those who decide to fulfill them are completely passionate about the course, those who have an interest but are not dedicated to the class may decide it’s not worth it to go through the trouble to write an essay about something they are not yet sure they have interest in. The wide range of courses offered at CHS is a unique opportunity, which could be significantly diminished as a result of the new policy.
Moreover, many courses students take in lieu of a free period, such as AP Bio/Chem, are those which students often take in consideration of their future. Additionally, many of these upper level courses are only offered one period a day, leaving students little choice in electives if they reserve period four, five, or six for a lunch period.
However, if they elect to have a free period at some other time of the day, they risk being assigned a time when the vast majority of their peers are in class, leaving few opportunities for socialization, making the free period little more than a study hall. For many students fulfilling their rigorous work in classes such as these, taking an elective history classes they are truly interested is far more desirable than having a free period.
While some students undoubtedly forfeit their lunch periods to take courses they deem necessary to their college acceptance, these students would likely enroll in these courses regardless. However, if it becomes more difficult for these students to fit such courses into their schedule, they may be forced to drop the less rigorous classes they are truly passionate about, such as fine or practical arts courses.
Although Mr. Turner has the best intentions with his new policy, his hope being that students will relax with the addition of a free period, there are plenty of students that would prefer to relax in a more conventional way, such as in an art class. Not only do students fulfill credits by taking an art class, many consider it a mental break that is much preferred to 47 minutes of unstructured free time. Those who are forced into having a free period are the ones who are likely to be working instead of relaxing.
Students who are willing to forego their free period already demonstrate a passion for learning that embodies Clayton High School’s core values. These students that want to challenge themselves academically should not need to justify their choices. Rather than discouraging these students, the CHS administration ought to support them, and do what they can to help.

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