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Bellingham high schools switching to 4 classes per day in 2017

Squalicum High School campus security monitor Russ Robbinson, center, says goodbye to students Tyler Nguyen, left, Jase Barrett and Garrett Sorensen at the end of the school day on March 23, 2016. Starting in fall 2017, Bellingham high schools will switch to a block schedule of four classes a day.
Squalicum High School campus security monitor Russ Robbinson, center, says goodbye to students Tyler Nguyen, left, Jase Barrett and Garrett Sorensen at the end of the school day on March 23, 2016. Starting in fall 2017, Bellingham high schools will switch to a block schedule of four classes a day. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

All four high schools in the Bellingham School District will switch to a four-class-per-day schedule for the 2017-18 school year.

The block schedule change will take effect when new start and end times begin for high school and elementary school students, a change the district announced last month. High school students will start 45 minutes later at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3:15 p.m.

Students will attend only four classes per day, and will alternate those classes every other day, district Superintendent Greg Baker said, allowing for eight classes per semester.

Under the current schedule, a student can fit only six classes in each semester. Students attend all six classes on certain days of the week; on the other days, they attend three classes each around 90 minutes long, and alternate them.

Reasons for the change, Baker said, include:

▪ bringing all four high schools to the same schedule, making it easier for students to take classes offered at another school;

▪ adding two more periods, which means students can enroll in that many more classes, opening up time for more electives or a preferred career focus;

▪ more time for learning and less time moving between classes;

▪ fewer missed classes for athletes who must leave early on away-game days.

The news garnered mixed reactions from Bellingham High School students on Thursday. Some said the changes weren’t much different than the school’s current Tuesday-through-Friday schedule, when students take three classes every day, each for about an hour and a half. Others welcomed the ability to add a few more classes to their schedule.

“I didn’t really ever have a place to have any art credits because my schedule was primarily full of math and science,” said Hunter Renz, a sophomore. “So it gets difficult wanting to take like four years of language and continuing to do math and science because you can’t really do electives.”

Christian Coleman, also a sophomore, said classes around the 90-minute mark allow him to retain more of the information. And the addition of two classes, he added, means he’ll reach his credit requirement quicker.

Sophomore Caitlyn Pippard said she missed out on taking choir because of a packed schedule. She expects that to change with the new schedule.

“This year, my schedule was packed full and I wasn’t able to do all the classes I wanted to,” Pippard said. “With the eight classes, I’m able to fit in everything I want to do.”

As an outgoing senior, Emma Lochridge won’t be affected by the schedule change — and she’s OK with that.

“I think if you tacked on another class for four classes a day, I think that would almost be a little too much,” she said. “I’m actually glad it’s not affecting me.”

Changing start times

The changes, Baker said, are similar to those being made at high schools around the country as part of a national movement to develop start times and schedules that coincide better with the sleeping schedules of teenagers. Research and data from the American Academy of Pediatrics contributed to the decision, Baker said.

Feedback from parents has been mixed, Baker said, with some asking why the start times can’t be implemented sooner and others disagreeing with the changes but at least understanding why they are being made.

The district held an April 13 informational session on the new start times. Only two parents showed up, Baker said.

“They walked away with a better understanding and appreciation,” Baker said. “They still might not want their elementary (and high school) start time to be whatever it is, but they get that we’ve been trying to figure out how to get high school students, based upon medical research, a later start time and how important that is.”

The schedule change also brings questions about how the district will approach after-school activities, primarily athletics, Baker said. The whole system will adjust to later times as the school end times get later, he said.

The district, in the coming years, will build new football fields for its high schools, Baker said, and each will be well lit to offset the lack of daylight for after-school practices and games during the winter months.

The schedule changes don’t take effect for more than a year, allowing teachers to develop new courses, and for students and parents to plan for new lifestyles, Baker said.

“Whenever you change a schedule or start and end time, you’re changing people’s lives, and we’ve heard that from our community,” Baker said. “So this gives people ample notice of a year and a half from now.”

Statements from student Caitlyn Pippard and the time high schools would let out starting in fall 2017 were corrected April 22, 2016.

Kyle Mittan: 360-756-2803, @KyleMittan

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