the westminster news
Published by the students of Westminster School
By Wills Erda '24
As Westminster enters its second year under the stewardship of Mrs. White, the school will soon embark upon new strategic planning. As we plan and prepare for this, one topic, in particular, has stuck out to me as necessary to change: The Westminster Schedule. Whether it has been debating the benefits of Saturday classes or bemoaning the seemingly never-ending set of special schedules, the schedule has been a topic on many student, faculty, and administrative minds.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Mr. de Kanter on multiple occasions about the current place of the Westminster schedule and its future. We discussed the various ways that the administration could change the schedule. As per his explanation, the current schedule was created six years ago and tries to combine an efficient rotating class schedule within the framework of essential Westminster traditions such as Chapel and Family Style Lunch. “Any schedule we have has to do many things,” said Mr. de Kanter, “first and foremost, it has to serve the academics —we are a school after all— but it also has to serve the athletics, admissions, and traditions of Westminster.” With this in mind, he still values student input and believes that student voices will be some of the most important as discussion about the schedule begins. “We just can’t have every day be 10:00 - 11:00 at a waterpark,” he cautions.
With this in mind, I wanted to share some of my thoughts on how we might improve the schedule. To be honest, I don’t think the Westminster schedule works very well. I think that due to its inconsistency, variability, and transience it can sometimes hurt more than help the students it seeks to serve.
Let’s begin with transience. Transience, for those unfamiliar with the word, describes the briefness of something. I think that the class blocks in the schedule are too short. As someone who spent a year at a high school with 90-minute class-blocks meeting three times a week, I can attest to the benefits of longer classes. First and foremost, it limits the maximum amount of homework per night because there are fewer classes per day to assign more. More class time allows students who no longer need to jump between disparate subjects to engage more deeply with the subject matter. The extra time also affords faculty better flexibility since they can now organize more dynamic lessons with their additional thirty minutes. This can however be more difficult for some who have trouble sitting still. One other difficulty with fewer longer classes is that while most subjects would benefit, some rely much more on constant repetition. Personally, however, I feel that these smaller drawbacks do not outweigh the benefits that can be reaped from longer class blocks.
The next thing I want to talk about is the variability in the schedule. To begin with, the different order of the blocks every day is so confusing that even after two months, I still have yet to memorize them. The fact that classes are either 50 minutes or an hour on a regular day, combined with a head-splitting plethora of ever-changing advisory meetings, breaks, chapels, and announcements, creates an inconsistent schedule. The sub-optimal solution here is for students to be constantly on their phones checking schedules, an environment that Westminster does not wish to foster. I believe that it is these scheduling acrobatics that are so draining on the students. Although I feel relaxed in classes, I spend the rest of my school day worriedly scrambling from place to place. The whole system exhausts you. Therefore, if the schedule were more straightforward and structured, it would make the day less stressful and more consistent. I know that there are disadvantages to a schedule with certain classes always first or last, but there are other ways to add more structure such as always having one class follow another.
Of course, this is all overshadowed by the biggest offender to a reasonable schedule of all: the special schedule. In October alone, there were ten days with special schedules and one week with four, which constituted more than half the week! At this point, why even call it special? Having to alter the schedule for special events is fine, but when a third of your days are special schedules, there is a broader issue with the current system. Besides, there are a few ways to easily make these scheduling changes less disruptive to a normal day. Why not have a regular school day with your programming at the end and push back sports instead? If we adopt this approach, the school day would follow a normal schedule only with an additional block at the end instead of an entirely different itinerary with weird class lengths and start times. If it was necessary to have your programming during the morning, cut it out of whatever block it occurred in rather than squeeze everything else to make room. Yes, that block might lose some class time, but since it appears that events often demand a so-called "special schedule" by the end of the year, everything is likely to have balanced out.
Overall, is the Westminster schedule terrible? No, but I believe that there is room for significant improvement. A schedule is something that has a big impact on nearly everyone at this school and working to improve will be a community effort. My suggestions are not perfect, and will not magically fix anything — at the end of the day, it is impossible to please everyone. They are, however, ideas I think should be considered as we move forward with this most important of changes.