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.