The Effects of Concentrated Breaks on Education

By Javin Dana

CatlinSpeak (Portland, Oregon)

This year at the Catlin Gabel Upper School, students will only be in school for 164 days, not including Winterim. On average, Oregon high school students spend 165 days in school, which is three school weeks (15 days) below the national average, and 11 days below the Portland Public School average. This means Catlin Gabel students are receiving three or more weeks of break; however this time off from school is not staggered throughout the year, but rather concentrated into the winter season.

In the past three years, the Catlin Gabel Upper and Middle Schools have faced a few major schedule alterations, namely the shift towards “block periods,” in which most classes meet an equal amount in a seven-day cycle (“A” through “G” days), along with the new arrangement for school-regimented breaks.

Currently, the vast majority of school breaks, whether they be for holidays, professional development, or weather mishaps, fall somewhere between early November to late January. This means that come mid-to-late February, continuing through May, the student body faces more days in school than during the majority of the first semester. This imbalance in the spread of time that students spend in school strikes some students as a hindrance to their learning experience, while others are unbothered by it.

Hearing about these varying opinions, CatlinSpeak went out to ask the Catlin Gabel School community about their preferences regarding the possible equalizing of breaks.

Sophomore Annika Le ’17 noted that she generally feels “more tired” during the winter, so having a constant barrage of breaks helps her get the sleep and, in her words, the “hibernation” that she needs. Scheduling is typically looked at from a standpoint of whether or not it would help the students’ ability to retain information, but Le focused on her personal comfort and need for sleep during the winter season.

Looking at it from a different angle, Neil Natarajan ’17 pinpointed what concentrated breaks do to him as a learner, noting, “I think if they [Catlin Gabel Upper School] balanced off-time better, for instance giving us four day weekends and five day weeks equally spread throughout the year, it would be better. Right now, I learn a lot during the winter, but I also forget quite a bit come spring because of how many breaks we have.”

Much like his peers, Natarajan agreed that it was generally harder for him to retain information when most of his off time is compacted into a two-month stretch in the school year.

Ellie Nakamoto-White ’16 agreed with Natarajan, stating, “If we had them [breaks from school] more frequently throughout the school year, but they were shorter, it would be helpful, because right now I easily lose track of my studies when met with the string of breaks.”

The students affirmed that the current system does not aptly incorporate their needs as learners in a quite rigorous, demanding school environment. The typical response to the current system is to have school throughout the year, but have a one-month-or-so break for every two months of school, which would be ideally void of breaks. However, some students dislike the prospect of removing the “benchmark” system, which is in place for the sake of helping drill in concepts; nor do they prefer having labor-intensive educational opportunities only be accessible through this “interval” system.

Many of these students may not realize it themselves, but as explained by counselor and health instructor Casey Mills, the environment both outside and inside the classrooms during the spring-summer semester, as well as the desire to play sports and partake in extraneous activities, is vastly affected by the weather. This combines with the lack of breaks to deter both student engagement in classes, and the drive to complete assignments.

“I haven’t been a teacher long enough to really get an understanding of how that affects the students’ learning. However, in my field of work, both before Catlin [Gabel School] and since coming to Catlin, I’ve found the level of stress to increase, and students have said that they wish there were more breaks after the winter breaks,” stated Mills. He continued, “They also noted that the change in weather from winter to spring, with the lack of breaks, has made it more difficult to pay attention in class. It’s not that the students are for it or against it, but the way the calendar falls, the students understand it and accept it, but it doesn’t make their stress and academic experience any less hard.”

Regardless of the perspective given, it seems that the concentration of breaks dissuades students from motivating themselves during the vital second semester, which has heavy implications on their grade in both spring-semester and year-long courses.

Students and teachers remain divided regarding the possible changes that could be made to the system currently in-place.

Photo Credit: Madhavi Kuram

About Grace Masback

Grace Masback, 17, aspires to give voice to the voiceless and holds the modest ambition of becoming the voice of Gen Z. Frustrated by the dearth of impactful platforms for teen journalists, she founded WANT, a news, sports, and entertainment website that aggregates the best in high school journalism from school newspapers and teen bloggers around the world (www.wantnewsforteens.com).

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