Looking into the student effort towards shifting the calendar
On the evening of Wednesday, September 26, students and parents from throughout the FUSD community gathered at the district office for a board meeting, where they discussed the number-one issue that students in the district are concerned about: shifting the calendar forward so that the school year starts earlier and first semester finals occur before winter break.
The discussion began with a presentation by SURFBoardE (Students United For the Representation to the Fremont Board of Education), a student group comprised of representatives from each of the high schools in Fremont that serves as a link between students and the school district. In the presentation, SURFBoardE representatives discussed two proposals for moving the calendar: one plan is to complete the entire transition within one school year, whereas the second plan is to gradually transition over the course of three school years, shifting the start of the school year a little earlier each year. In addition to presenting the proposed plans, SURFBoardE representatives emphasized the importance of the school board considering the calendar shift during negotiations.
“When we asked [primary and secondary students], students chose winter break and the way that finals are positioned right now as the biggest issue,” SURFBoardE chairperson Pallas Chou (12) explained during the presentation. “Notably, this is [ranked as] a bigger issue than bathrooms and dress code and school lunches, which speaks volumes in terms of how important this issue is.”
Shifting the school year to start earlier and moving finals to occur before winter break would allow students the chance to truly relax over the breaks, improve their attitude towards exams, and help them feel more confident and prepared to start the second semester. This is a stark contrast against the situation that students face with the current calendar.
“Last year, I was stressed over winter break, and I was really, really stressed weeks before finals, and my teachers decided to cram more information the week before finals,” recalled Chou. “There’s no break in between [finals and second semester]—I had to go straight into second semester and I was really mentally burned out.”
A significant group that would gain an advantage through shifting the start of the school year ahead are the large number of high school students who take AP courses throughout FUSD, as an earlier start to the year would allow these students to enjoy a more effective learning experience.
“[With a shifted calendar] you have much more time to study for AP tests, because teachers have more time to finish their curriculum,” said Mythili Korimilli (12), who is currently an AP student. “Right now, AP tests are in the beginning of May, and we still have one and a half months after that, so that’s a waste of time for most AP classes.”
Not only does the calendar shift provide numerous advantages for high school students, it would positively affect the entire district if implemented, including the elementary school community. For many elementary school teachers, although their students do not face the issue of finals and AP exams, the calendar shift would also greatly benefit the way they teach their students by providing more time at the beginning of the year for teachers to get to know their students’ abilities. Currently, the elementary schools run on the trimester system, where the trimesters are unequally divided in length due to a short first trimester and long second trimester. By starting school earlier, achieving equally divided trimesters would be a possibility, and this would provide primary teachers with significant advantages.
“[With more time in the beginning of the year], I feel like I wouldn’t be in a position where I am having to necessarily try to assess [a student],” explained Mr. Murphy, a fifth-grade teacher at Warwick Elementary School. Specifically, he describes that more time would allow teachers to accurately judge students’ grasp on important skills. “I’d have more grades in writing. Writing is a higher level skill that takes a little bit of time for a kid to learn the aspects of…and that’s something that I’d have more time to deal with. Instead of only having a couple of essays to grade, I’d have a better assessment of how well a child was picking up the knowledge of how to put together a five-paragraph essay.”
Despite the strong support for the calendar shift from throughout the district, the proposal still faces a lengthy process before it has the chance of being implemented. However, the efforts of the students and their families have been very successful so far. Following the SURFBoardE presentation on September 26, FUSD and FUDTA (Fremont Unified District Teachers Association) agreed to open up the calendar shift as an item for negotiation, with the predicted negotiation date being January 2019. A public hearing was held during the board meeting on October 24 with the goal of creating an informed atmosphere for the involved parties before entering negotiations. At the public hearing, students, parents, and administrators from across the district further discussed the importance of the calendar shift.
“I want to be able to reach 100% of my students, and with a smaller amount of time at the beginning of the year, it really takes some difficulty to get to them,” Ms. Sorenson, a counselor at American High School, explained during the hearing about the process of working with seniors to complete their college applications. “[In addition], because our [current] semester ends at the end of January and there’s a deadline for mid-year reports, what happens is that students start getting hounded by colleges for transcripts. They keep hearing that they’re going to get rescinded if they don’t have their grades in…and I think that causes an unnecessary stress with our students.”
As a result of the continuous efforts of the FUSD community, the calendar shift proposal faces bright prospects on the horizon. In the midst of the overwhelmingly positive response from the community and the success that such support has led to, one FUSD administrator wants to remind staff across the district about the importance of recognizing the students’ opinions.
“Why did we get into this job? It was to help kids,” said the administrator. “I’m in this job for what’s best for the kids, so you have to do what you have to do [to ensure the best for them].”
Caption: SURFBoardE representatives Pallas Chou and Zuhair Imaduddin address the school board during their presentation regarding the calendar shift. “By having the calendar moved forward, we hope that winter break will prove to be a more natural transition between first semester as well as second semester,” stated Chou (12).