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Big pros, few cons of back-to-school plan for B.C. secondary students, says expert

Last Updated Aug 20, 2020 at 7:23 am PDT

(Source: iStock)

Vancouver, Surrey, Abbotsford school districts say high schools will be on quarterly system school year

Parents worry students will have less time to learn with shorter sessions

Quarter system likely to benefit kids with focus and attention issues, expert says

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — As details slowly start to trickle out of Metro Vancouver school districts, we’re learning some will split the school year into four quarters, instead of semesters or trimesters, to limit contact between high school students.

The change, coming to Vancouver, Surrey and Abbotsford, is a smart move, despite a few trade-offs, says Wendy Poole, an associate professor in the University of British Columbia’s education department.

“In the time of COVID, to me, this makes perfect sense,” she says.

The move to quarters will shorten study periods to 10 weeks, meaning kids may have to brush up on time management skills and stay on top of studying for quizzes and tests, and teachers are going to have to adapt their lesson plans.

It also means yearly breaks may be shortened to accommodate the need for four learning periods, including summer (which is often optional in existing quarterly systems).

Poole says the benefits include less contact with others but also a chance for kids with focus and attention issues to succeed.

“There are both pros and cons to this, it’s specific to the student. If they have difficulty moving from one course to another, and having to do homework for several courses in one night, this may be better for them,” says Poole.

Related article: Vancouver School Board lays out back to school plan for September

Parents have expressed concern that those needing extra time may be left behind if pacing of courses moves too fast. They also worry if a student misses a chunk of time due to illness or having to self-isolate, it could be tough to catch up.

Poole says the difference between trimesters and quarters is not that significant, adding kids who need extra time will be able to find it within the 10-week quarter because their workload will be less overwhelming.

“Which means that they’ll have more time to focus on those particular courses, so instead of having three of four courses a night they’re doing homework for, they’ll only have two.”

‘Harder on staff than students’

Poole says parents have to accept that there is no perfect system and districts are tasked with a massive undertaking and doing their best.

“No system is perfect for all children and I think students and parents are just going to have to understand that,” she says.

However, the transition is likely to be tough on educators, who only have weeks before the start of class on Sept. 10.

“I think this is going to be harder on the staff than it will on the students . . . I feel for them right now because school’s going to open in another couple of weeks and this gives them very little time to get prepared,” she explains.

“I’m sure they would have wished to have much more time to know exactly what the system was going to be because those secondary schools now are going to be madly trying to decide which courses are going to be face-to-face, which courses are going to be online, who’s going to teach those courses?”

She says teachers will have to make changes to course pacing, quiz and test schedules and will need to be available to support students and stay on top of communications.

“The adults in the school or the adults in the home are going to have to help children adjust to this and to remain calm and understand, yeah, there might be some glitches, especially at the beginning. We need to be flexible and make adjustments as we go along and trust that in the end, everything will work out as long as we just communicate with each other and stay on top of things.”