By Alex G. ’21
Most Winsor students are already accustomed to the hybrid schedule and unusual room placements that are unique to this year. In September, we launched into the new school year and immediately adapted to the new routine, but now that we are two months into the year, let’s take some time to see how it was created.
After the rapid design of last spring’s distance learning schedule, Winsor was well prepared to develop a schedule for this year’s hybrid model. Though last spring’s model was generally successful, especially given the time constraints around its formation, Winsor knew that some changes had to be made to make the schedule more effective for this school year and allow for a return to in-person learning. The scheduling team, comprised of Ms. Labieniec, Ms. Ramos, Ms. Geromini, and Mr. Crompton, worked in conjunction with the academic planning group, which included Ms. Caspar, Mr. Braxton, Ms. Jones Phinney and Mrs. Markenson, to decide what changes to make.
The guiding principle of this year’s schedule is its flexibility across digital, hybrid, and in-person learning, so the team determined early on that the schedule must have symmetry so the week could be split in half in the hybrid model. The team felt that the symmetry had to be within a week, so the days in school for any given student could remain the same every week and give families a sense of regularity. Additionally, the upper school and lower school schedules had to sync up for crossover teachers and school-wide events such as assembly. As lower schoolers typically take more classes than upper schoolers since health, STEM, and PE are mandatory, the schedule had to include a larger number of “carriers,” blocks that could fit a full course, than the seven day schedule had. Thus, the current schedule has eight class blocks rather than seven, as was typical last year. Finally, the scheduling and academic teams wanted to address the concerns ambiguity and inconsistency in assignment due dates. Thus, the sync–async–sync–async pattern for work was created to bring more consistency and “cadence” to students’ workloads.
Over the summer, the scheduling team was tasked with creating three different versions of the schedule (one in-person, one virtual, and one hybrid) in just a few weeks. According to Ms. Labieniec, the team had to wait until the release of health guidelines at the end of the summer to create those plans during a “very intense period of planning [and] communicating with the academic planning group.” The schedule evolved at the same time as new health guidelines were released, so the three schedules needed to be elastic and flexible. In early August, the outline for the schedules was ready to be presented to Ms. Pelmas’s planning task force, the faculty, and eventually parents and students. Given the infection rates in Massachusetts, Winsor’s space, the size of the student body, and many other factors, Winsor ultimately chose the hybrid model to start the year. However, the remaining two models may still be used later in the school year if we transition to fully online or in-person learning.
The in-person portion of the schedule was crafted around the state and federal health and safety guidelines, some which were easier to accommodate than others, according to Ms. Ramos and Ms. Labieniec. According to Ms. Ramos, one of the biggest challenges the scheduling team faced was “trying to imagine what clean up and set up of each space would look like and how long people would need to complete cleaning protocols, as well as wash hands and take mask breaks.” The need for cleaning and setting up after every class forced the scheduling team to create large periods of passing time to allow for thorough sanitizing, especially in spaces like the art rooms and science labs. Another large challenge was “coordinating full-class or even multi-grade level events like lunch and flex.” Not only do these events pose even larger issues around cleaning and setting up spaces, Winsor does not have enough large spaces to hold these large groups safely. Thus, lunches and lower school clubs had to be split up into smaller groups of two classes at a time.
For Ms. Labieniec, “the hardest [guideline to integrate into the schedule] is actually the six feet guideline” because it forced Winsor to choose the hybrid option since the school could not completely physically distance all students and faculty if all were on campus at once. Additionally, allocating rooms to specific classes was especially difficult because some rooms became unsuitable for larger classrooms with the new rule. Even after the structure of the schedule was decided, the classroom assigning process had to begin. First, Mr. Crompton and Mr. Anderson measured every room in the school to determine the student capacity, remove extra furniture, and consider the ventilation and sanitization of the space. Then Ms. Ramos put together the classes according to students’ requests, and informed the scheduling team about maximum class sizes as well as the number of classrooms that a given class would use (for instance many science classes have access to two lab spaces). Finally, Ms. Labieniec, Ms. Ramos, and Ms. Geromini walked around the entire school with a 6 foot long stick to arrange the desks. Ms. Labieniec described the experience as “something of a math puzzle to figure out how to get the desks in the room so that everyone is six feet apart in the most efficient way.” Once the rooms had been set up, classes could be matched to specific spaces, and the schedule was finalized.
Despite their enormous effort, Ms. Labieniec and Ms. Ramos remained worried about how the schedule would function in practice. Ms. Ramos recalls, “I think the most challenging part of making the schedule was creating it for something I couldn’t really even imagine. Having spent most of my spring at home, I really wasn’t sure what it would look like and feel like to wear a mask all day, to be around many other people and maintain social distancing, and to be able to sanitize according to our protocols.” She wanted to retain the positive experiences that Winsor students have had with the schedule in the past and tried extra hard to place students in the classes that they requested. Given the extra carrier in the schedule, a record high number of students are even able to overload on credits this semester. Ms. Labieniec was most stressed about the balance between maintaining academic rigor and respecting students’ time at home and other responsibilities. She and the other team members worked incredibly hard to create the synchronous/asynchronous work pattern with the interests of students at the forefront of the planning process. She also worried about how to ensure that many fun aspects of school, such as homerooms and lunch periods are maintained to balance out the workload while also “having to put restrictions on some of the aspects of community life that make the day enjoyable, in order to keep everyone safe.”
After two months of the hybrid schedule, it is clear that the scheduling team took their jobs incredibly seriously and designed the schedule to best serve the student body. The schedule preserves many activities that are characteristic of the Winsor experience while also allowing for continued academic rigor and discussion-based learning. As the hybrid schedule is now a success and our continued reality, we can thank all the members of the faculty and staff who dedicated their summer to making this schedule possible. Thank you!