PLAIN TWP.  High school students today have many pressures in making their way to graduation. Are students building the right resume for college – good grades, volunteer hours, AP classes, extracurricular activities?

Different high schools also offer different ways of learning.

For most high school students in Stark County, a traditional schedule is what students take. This means students take the same eight or nine classes for 45 to 50 minutes every day. However, one Stark County high school has implemented an A/B schedule, meaning students take four or five classes a day, every other day, and class periods are an hour and a half.

The A/B schedule is set up more like a college routine.

Fifteen of Stark County’ 16  school districts and Green Local Schools in Summit County are on the traditional school model, but students in the Plain Local School District are on A/B schedules. The A/B schedule extend into the intermediate and middle school. However, at those levels, students still take core classes every day.

The Suburbanite, based on email interviews with North Canton City Schools Assistant Superintendent Dave Pilati, a former teacher and administrator in Plain Local Schools; Brian Matthews, assistant superintendent and curriculum director in Plain Local Schools; and Gayle Kimbrough, a GlenOak High School graduate, former teacher and current principal at GlenOak, takes a look at the A/B schedule and how why Plain has gone to it, and why others are sticking to the traditional schedule.

Why A/B scheduling?

Matthews explained the philosophy behind Plain Local’s A/B schedule.

"The A/B schedule began as a way to accommodate students with our wealth of art offerings," said Matthews. "Students are able to maximize their schedule opportunities by having these (classes) every other day. Courses such as jazz band, strings, ceramics, fashion design, Gateway to Technology, 21st Century and Chinese are offered to students on an A/B schedule. Having these every other day allows students to take a variety of courses."

In Plain Local, Matthews indicated that kids taking the same class every day would limit their course offering.

"We take great pride in providing students with an experience that allows them to select courses to tailor their interest and needs," he said. "The only disadvantage may be with math. Math seems to be the course that students and staff would like to have daily for more connection."

Pilati has experienced both models as a teacher in the Minerva Local Schools and Plain Local before becoming an administrator in Plain Local and now North Canton.

"I taught under the traditional schedule from the fall of 1992 through spring 1996," he said. "I am not sure I have a preference for what I prefer. However, I feel from a student’s perspective, the continuity of having a class meet every day instead of only two or three times a week, depending on the week, is preferable. Although I have no data that the majority of the students feel that way. That is just my feeling after many years of experience in teaching and learning."

Kimbrough offered her insights based on being a student in Plain Local under a traditional schedule to having taught and administer with a block schedule.

"Every day classes are nice for their repetition," said Kimbrough. "Math and languages tend to prefer the reinforcement that a class every day provides.  As a student, I knew no different, so it all seemed normal to me. I think now, I would like to have the extra night that a block provides to get my homework done."

The advantages

Pilati said a benefit to the A/B - or block scheduling - is that it permits students to focus on fewer courses in one day, "and teachers as well as they would teach fewer subjects in one day."

"However, over a two-day period, the students and the teachers would both go through their full cycle of courses that they are enrolled in (student) or they teach (teacher). I have never had the opportunity to review any surveys of teachers and students to see who views the A/B schedule as more of a benefit."

Kimbrough shared her thoughts from a teaching perspective.

"I taught for 12 years on a block and never had the chance to teach on every day schedule," she wrote."I think it is nice to have a longer time with my students and that start-up of activities of each class (attendance, set-induction, reviewing objects, etc) which all take instructional time is reduced by meeting longer, every other day.

"As a principal, the block schedule is beneficial for labs in science and extended class discussion in English and Social Studies."

Matthews added that advantages are advanced opportunities for course selection, parallel to college schedules and 90 minute blocks provide for deeper learning opportunities.

As for homework under an A/B schedule vs. traditional, Kimbrough responded that it was the same.

"I just chunked the homework by the week instead of the day," she said. "In terms of completing or struggling with the homework, some kids did struggle and some kids did not."

Which schedule prepares students for college?

Getting to experience a college-type regimen during their high school years is a plus, according to Matthews.

"Having three children in college, I would believe they are well adjusted to the every other day class selection as this parallel to their collegiate offerings,"  said Matthews.

Pilati agreed that the A/B schedule provides a more college-like experience, but he is not sold that it is the better way for high school - and younger - students to learn.

"The A/B, every other day block schedule, certainly provides an opportunity for high school students to experience a class schedule like the majority of college courses offer, which also meet every other day," he said. "However, it is not the experience of meeting every other day that bests prepares a student for college. So, I do not support having an A/B schedule in high school simply because that’s the type of schedule students will experience in college. If that were the case, then I would say that I support students only have two or three major assessments in one semester of a high school course to make it similar college courses. However, I am not a proponent of only two or three major assessments in a semester. Research indicates that students learn more when assessment is frequently embedded into the class instead of just occurring a small number of times throughout the course."

Kimbrough weighed in from a teaching perspective.

"I don’t think it prepares kids not any better or worse for college," she said. "In college, some classes are locked and some are every day.  ... It just depends."

At the end of day, Kimbrough said an A/B or traditional schedule does not affect how teachers are preparing kids for the mandatory state testing.

From an administrative standpoint, Pilati does not believe scheduling is easier or more challenging from either model.

Pilati summed up the experience for teachers and students.

"In my teaching years, I have taught under both types of schedules and I was able to attain great student achievements results under both systems," wrote Pilati. "I think the factor that has the most impact on student achievement is the teacher and not the schedule. I believe great teachers providing great instruction can make a schedule effective."

Ultimately, the schedule is not the indicator of success or fail. As with education in general, every student learns in a different environment.