How a New Upper School Schedule Reimagines the Academic Day

This year the Upper School introduced a new schedule during the academic day—one that includes days with no academics at all.

Upper School principal Mamadou Guèye explains the reasoning behind the overhaul: “A 2017 community survey found there was a high level of stress with parents, faculty, and students,” he says. “And we thought, ‘We need to pay attention to the mental health of the students.’” The first step was to overhaul the Monday to Friday routine. Now Upper School students enjoy a slower pace—there’s more time between classes, lunch is now 45 minutes, and the daily 10-minute break now lasts 20 minutes.

The new schedule was partially inspired by the "Imagine the Future of Learning" section of the Sidwell Friends Strategic Plan. Each School division formed a scheduling committee to examine how best they could "reimagine how we allocate time by revising schedules to be more responsive to student needs and to provide programmatic flexibility." The Upper School's revised schedule not only provides breaks for students, but also flexibility for Quaker Days and for workshops and assemblies that previously would have been scheduled during an already-crowded academic day.

All in all, students have “up to 70 free minutes a day,” that they can use as they wish, says Guèye. “What we were told about the level of stress informed our intentionality in reviewing the schedule by building up the time the students have to reset. All of the classes that used to meet five times a week now meet four times a week, meaning no kid can go home now with two and a half to three hours of homework when they only have three or four classes.”

In addition, the new schedule features regular “Quaker Days,” which serve as an academic break. The first, which occurred on October 18, featured a morning assembly addressing health and wellness issues. After the assembly, students played games like capture the flag, soccer, and netball before enjoying a pep rally in the afternoon. On December 13 students participated in a cultural fashion show, in which student models—like the one showcased in the photo—sported clothing representing their heritage.

Introducing days for students to spend a majority of the time outside of the classroom gave many people pause—including Guèye himself.

“I was the one who was so worried about how we can have a day from 10:30 to 3:00 with kids playing?” he said. “But it is serving them. It’s just play and fun, and that is really community building and time for the kids to really enjoy each other. It’s a day where there are no academics, so from Thursday to Sunday evenings they have time for family and friends.”

While Guèye says the response to the new schedule has been “massively positive,” there are some issues that will require more evaluation. AP teachers, for example, are on a tight schedule to prepare their students for their exams and missing a classroom day makes that more difficult. “There are still adjustments we want to see,” he says. “It’s not perfect. But going back would defeat the purpose of what we’re trying to accomplish: to slow down the crazy rhythm of the school day and make it more humane.”

More School News