Ridgefield High School’s ‘flex time’ would give students more time with their teachers

RIDGEFIELD — The high school plans to schedule time at the beginning of the day for students to connect with their teachers for extra support or even meet with clubs.

This so-called “flex time” will become part of a “block” schedule that Ridgefield High School has piloted the past two academic years that offers longer class time for students.

The idea is that students could meet with their teachers during a 26-minute block in the morning for academic support or enrichment. School officials see benefits for students social and emotional well being, as well.

“It also will allow us to really get to know students a little bit more, not only just personally, but also with their academic challenges or academic gains, as well,” said Danny Martins, the social studies department chair who was among the teachers, administrators and students to present the plan to the school board on Monday evening.

Although there could be revisions, the high school aims to implement its new schedule for the 2022-23 year and use it for a “number of years,” Principal Jacob Greenwood said. School board members said they like the plan, although one suggested the “flex time” be called “Tiger Time.”

A committee at Ridgefield High School has been studying for the last four years whether to switch to from an eight-day rotating schedule to a “block” schedule, where students have fewer, but longer classes each day. Periods are about 80 minutes.

The school moved to the block schedule due to COVID-19, and it’s been largely popular with students and teachers. The committee conducted a focus group with a wide variety of students and staff, while a survey of 1,200 students and 100 staff members found 85 percent of students and 80 percent of staff want to keep the block schedule, high school administrators said.

Flex time is a growing trend in schools, although some others schools offer it in the middle or end of the day, said Michael Yagid, assistant principal at the high school. Other schools have seen popular teachers fill up or athletes leave for sports games, missing their flex time, he said.

He said expects offering it in the morning would help Ridgefield avoid those pitfalls. Students would meet with an advisory teacher at the beginning of the week to schedule where they’ll go during this period. Their attendance would be tracked.

Greenwood added that this would give students more time to settle into the school day, rather than hopping off the bus and taking a test a few minutes later.

The school staff and students who spoke in favor of the idea noted that students could meet with their teachers before a test, engage in enrichment, hold club meetings, or connect with services for social and emotional support.

Students who are on target academically and don’t need to be anywhere specific during their flex time would be allowed to come to school later for the start of their first period at 7:55 a.m.

However, their attendance would be tracked to ensure this doesn’t equate to a regular later school time for some students, Superintendent Susie Da Silva said.

“That wasn’t the goal of the committee,” she said. “I know how valuable that time is in the morning.”

“There is a road to independence with young adults,” Da Silva added. “This is just another step.”

With a new schedule that’s planned to be adopted next fall, students would get a longer lunch period, going from 25 minutes to 40 minutes, which Yagid called more “humane.” The school would offer three lunch waves, rather than four. Extra seating, including outdoors, added due to COVID-19 allows for more students to eat at once.

Passing time between classes would be reduced from nine minutes to six minutes.

Adding the “flex time” would reduce instructional time slightly, from 124 structural hours per course to 121 hours per course.

However, it would maximize the time that students get with adults, something Ridgefield has tried to do to better support students in the wake of the mental health effects of COVID, Da Silva said.

“The research is very clear, touch points with adults makes a difference,” she said. “So when we’re hearing about kids in crisis, they’re less likely to be in crisis if someone is checking in, and what better way to check in if I have six or seven kids, versus 24.”