I’m sure you’re finding the month of May to be as packed with school activities as ever. It’s an exciting time of the school year to be a student and a parent. It’s also time when we plan for the school year ahead, which will be here before we know it.
With the return of all students and faculty to campus in the fall, we will be normalizing our daily bell schedule. While we will be ironing out all of the details in the months ahead, I can report that it will resemble our current schedule with exceptions. There will be no cohorts as all students will be here together and our classes will be in-person, not virtual. On most Wednesdays, in lieu of a full day of instruction, students will be expected to complete academic work. This will include meeting with their classes for 50 minutes, retaking quizzes, attending writing workshops, working on small group projects, planning for AP testing, completing homework for the week, hearing from guest speakers and the like. On occasional Wednesdays, time will be devoted to various community building, campus ministry, and co-curricular activities. Every day of the week, including Wednesdays, will begin at 9:00am.
Preliminary Bell Schedule 2021-2022:
As I have mentioned before, it is my goal to create a school environment that incorporates the emerging understanding of student mental health needs while also challenging students with a rigorous college prep curriculum. Know that this latest change reflects not only our understanding of adolescent mental health but also our internal observations of how students embrace challenging material. This is a first step to get us to real change. This bell schedule for 2021-2022 will further evolve as part of our plan to establish a permanent schedule in the Fall of 2022.
As always in school decisions large and small, I am guided by our mission statement, which begins:
“Through a rigorous and integrated program of academic, spiritual, and co-curricular activities, St. Ignatius challenges its students to lead lives of faith, integrity, and compassion.”
Our mission revolves around three legs of a stool — faith, integrity, and compassion — supported by parents, teachers, coaches, counselors, campus ministers, and activity moderators. When I think about who we want students to be when they graduate, I can't help but peer back into the days before the pandemic, and remember how difficult life often was for our students as they tried to juggle rigorous academics, sports and activities, retreats and service hours.
As we’ve seen rates of anxiety and depression explode in adolescents, ten years ago we started partnering with the Challenge Success Program at Stanford University. I have personally been involved with that work as we have sought to improve the lives of our students. We administered 2 comprehensive surveys to our students in 2017 and again in 2020 (just prior to the pandemic) and found much of the same results in both testing periods. The positives were very positive, showing that our students feel a tremendous sense of connection to their counselors and teachers compared to other schools, and that the work we have done to de-stigmatize mental health disorders in the last decade has been beneficial to our students. On the other hand, we found in both surveys that:
- 80% of students reported they were often or always stressed by schoolwork, with 11th graders reporting the highest level of stress Stanford evaluators have ever seen.
- The average amount of time spent on weekday and weekend homework is high, especially for 10th and 11th graders.
- Rating of “busywork” assigned, as perceived by the students, is high.
- The students report getting only 6.75 hours of sleep as compared to the recommendation that they should be getting 9 hours.
As Principal, these results and our own observations of student’s stress levels have weighed heavily on me. The constant pressures of college admissions, getting high grades, co-curricular excellence, and social media driven perfectionism, are causing pain for our young people. Covid 19 brought many challenges to so many people world-wide, and highlighted so many fractures in our society. It also forced me to think narrowly yet deeply about life on the three-legged stool, and how it has become more representative of a hamster wheel accelerating daily with little hope of slowing, and what effect this is most certainly having on our children.
Prior to March 2020, our administration and faculty were examining ways to reduce the overall load on our students that our mission calls us to embrace. We talked about lofty educational ideals that would address our Challenge Success data mentioned above. Ironically, during the pandemic, the hamster wheel did slow down, and many of our students, teachers, and I noticed not only how challenging our modern life has become, but also how much more manageable it can be if we commit to making changes. And we found out that we in fact can actually concentrate on challenging students in the classroom without overloading them with work.
The last lines of our mission tug at my soul lately:
With a commitment to intellectual excellence, leadership, service, and justice, we strive to be men and women for and with others, responding courageously to the opportunities and challenges of our time.
We have an obligation to help our students navigate this ever-changing world around them. Moreover, the mission calls us to do just that. We ask our graduates upon graduation to embody concrete goals of justice and leadership, while also asking them to be loving and intellectual, for more intangible but equally important expectations. These are foundational Jesuit tenets that have helped me think about the future of SI and where we need to go. We need to get back to basics, and celebrate our mission and our history as people for and with others. We also have the obligation to heal and innovate, and to bring our community together like never before, modeling every day what we expect from our young people.
Next year’s bell schedule will provide us with an opportunity to slow down and experiment prior to committing to a long-term solution. We are confident in our ability to reconnect and build up our school community while continuing to meet the curricular standards required to prepare our students for college and beyond.
I hope you are able to enjoy a restful summer with your family and friends. Thank you again for your support throughout this challenging school year.
Michelle Nevin Levine
Principal, St. Ignatius College Preparatory