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The City Journals

Flexible Friday schedule improves attendance

Sep 09, 2019 11:56AM ● By Jet Burnham

Students access Friday classes from anywhere they have an internet connection. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

This Friday, Real Salt Lake Academy High School students will attend their classes from their hotel room, a couch or the bus. The public charter school, located in Herriman, is the first Utah school to implement a Flex Friday schedule in response to the high numbers of student-athletes missing class on Fridays.

“With our soccer emphasis, many of these kids miss class when travelling for games,” said history teacher and soccer coach Pace Ford. “The flexibility of completing their classwork online helps avoid many of the pitfalls that occur when missing seat time in class.”

On Flex Fridays, students access their lessons through Canvas, a learning management software system, which can be accessed on their computers from anywhere.

Principal Grant Stock believes attendance will improve with the new schedule. Parents have been asked to schedule their child’s doctor and dental appointments on Fridays to minimize disruptions to instruction time. Academic counselors will use Flex Fridays to meet with students instead of pulling them out of class during the week.

“I'll be coordinating college tours on Fridays so the kids won't miss any instruction time and still get out on college campuses,” said Lee Basquin, school counselor.

Ultimately, the goal of the adapted schedule is to facilitate students to excel in school despite competing demands on their time.

“I felt like we just got more bang for our buck [with Flex Fridays],” Stock said. “We aren't just addressing attendance issues or addressing scholarship issues, we are addressing disruption issues.”

The flex schedule also prepares students to transition into adult life.

“Once they graduate, they'll no longer have eight hours of structured activity dictating their everyday life,” said Ford. “They'll need to be able to build that structure themselves, and with our Flex Fridays, they'll get a good introduction to this as they decide when and where they accomplish their classwork.”

Business teacher Justin Perfili believes flexibility is a real-world skill students need to learn.

“It's an opportunity to provide students with some adult-level responsibility while balancing their life goals as well,” he said. “It will create in our students an additional sense of realization that flexibility in life is a needed essential element to thrive in today's global economy.”

Teachers also benefit from the flex schedule. Due to the school’s technology emphasis, teachers already use digital curriculum. Flex Fridays free up time for lesson prep, grading, curriculum development, and communication with students and parents.

“Usually, these are done during the week mixed in with teaching, coaching and other administrative duties,” Ford said. “To have a day separate from everything else allows for better reflection and focus on future lessons and grading.”

Stock said he doesn’t know of any other schools using a Flex Friday schedule. Because RSLAHS is a smaller, specialized school, they are often the first to try new ideas—such as an 8:30 a.m. start time—to meet students’ needs.

“We won't let the kids fall through the cracks on the system,” Stock said. “If by the end of the semester this is a disaster, next semester we won't be doing it.” He said the system can be tweaked quickly and easily at a small school.

The board originally considered a four-day school week as a solution, but Dale Robinson, school board member who recently earned a master’s degree in instructional technology and learning sciences, suggested a personalized learning adaptation to the schedule to meet the needs of student-athletes.

“We have a lot of kids that fall out of the traditional school model today,” Robinson said. “So we're starting off talking about 21st century, personalized learning. How do you develop school systems that can catch every kid if every kid is so different?”

Stock emphasizes that Fridays are not a day off. The school is open during regular hours on Friday, buses run as normal and students can come to school to complete their work if they choose. If a student is behind, teachers can require them to come in on a Friday.

With the Canvas system already in place, it will be used for days that would normally be cancelled as snow days. Stock said students will be notified to complete the day’s work from the safety of their homes instead of commuting in treacherous conditions or losing a day of instruction.

Because there will be no Fridays off for holidays or end-of-term breaks, school will also be dismissed for the summer by May 20—18 days earlier than last year.