SMETHPORT — When students at the Smethport Area Junior-Senior High School return to classes in late August for the 2019-20 academic year, they will be the first ones in the district to follow block scheduling.

“Used for years in many school districts across the state with much success, including Kane and Ridgway, a block schedule moves from the traditional system to a model which essentially moves the focus of our students from eight classes a day to four of longer duration,” said Principal Brice Benson.

What is block scheduling?

“Unlike the traditional scheduling with six to eight classes of 40-50 minutes, which is still in use in a majority of the nation’s secondary schools, block schedule models use four longer periods of daily instruction, or blocks, that allow for more time for educational opportunities, such as in-depth and project-based instruction like additional science lab experiences, more collaborative activities tied to the use of technology and better student-teacher rapport, as well as extra help for students,” Benson said.

Research has shown the impact a school’s schedule can have on the educational environment.

“Instead of traveling to eight classes every day, our students will be attending eight classes over a two-day period of time, leading to less daily homework,” according to Benson. “They will receive the typical number of instructional minutes, the same number of courses scheduled, yet the instructional day is streamlined.”

Noting that change is the one constant in education, Benson said, “Meeting the demands of an ever-changing employment environment requires public schools to shift and adapt with the times. The job of our high school is to best prepare our young people with the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in a future that will place an emphasis on knowledge and skills.

“Our graduates will be impacted by technological automation and labor displacement will make many of the low-skill jobs of today vanish to be replaced by occupations requiring higher order thinking and future-ready technological skills.”

Over the past decade, many school districts have increased the number of credits required for a diploma without extending the school day, meaning that those with the traditional secondary daily schedules offered students fewer opportunities for the fine arts and vocational education electives.

Though block scheduling is certainly not a new educational concept, it has been adopted by approximately 30 percent of the nation’s secondary schools. Significant numbers of districts in Colorado, Maryland, Florida and Texas use this system.

On Oct. 24, 2014, Gov. Tom Wolf signed Act 158 into law. This outlines the new statewide graduation requirements impacting the graduating class of 2022, the incoming sophomores, and all subsequent classes.

While no statewide requirements exist for the classes of 2020 and 2021, Smethport’s requirements formerly in place will govern requirements for the incoming juniors and seniors. Benson said, “In keeping with the Act 158 law, the Smethport Area School Board is finalizing new graduation requirements, which will take effect beginning with our incoming sophomores.”

Two informational meetings explaining these changes are slated for June 19. These identical sessions at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium will last approximately 90 minutes. Benson will provide additional details on the new block scheduling and its effects on all grade levels. Superintendent David London will review the board-approved changes to graduation requirements beginning with the class of 2022.