Pleasant Grove ponders opposing views on switch to lock schedule

Pleasant Grove and Elk Grove are the only two high schools in Elk Grove Unified to only offer a traditional schedule, making the switch to a block alternative seem as if it’s only a matter of time.



Lilah Gonsalves, Pleasant Grove High School

Following district trends, Pleasant Grove High School is considering the switch to a block schedule, but because of mixed opinions from students and faculty, the specifics are still unresolved.

Some critics of Pleasant Grove’s traditional schedule – where students take the same six classes each semester – say it is inefficient and limits student choices. The alternative – a block schedule that gives students a year of credit for taking four courses that meet every day for approximately 90 minutes in the fall semester, and then four new courses in the spring – would allow students to take eight courses per year instead of six.

Pleasant Grove and Elk Grove are the only two high schools in the Elk Grove Unified School District to only offer a traditional schedule, making the switch to a block alternative seem as if it’s only a matter of time. 

A teacher committee headed by counselor Sandi Allen and English teacher David Segal meets on a monthly basis to consider different schedule options, but according to committee member and social studies teacher Nolan Dunkly, nothing has been decided. A vote on the matter is planned for the fall of 2023, but Dunkly said it “would change the school in the fall of 2024 at the earliest.” 

A survey conducted by students in Jacob Reebel’s Ethnic Studies class for their Youth Participation Action Research Project additionally confirmed the indecisiveness surrounding the possible schedule. The results from 17 students were almost evenly split: 35.3% supported a block, 29.4% were content with the current traditional schedule, and 35.3% were either not sure or indifferent. 

In the survey, students were also asked about the challenges and benefits they associated with a block schedule. The main concerns were about having to focus in longer class periods and the possibility of having an extended school year. As for the benefits, students believed they would have less homework, be able to focus on fewer subjects at a time, and teachers wouldn’t be rushing to finish activities in a 55-minute period. 

With the influence of more research, the class concluded that “an alternating block schedule that allows for as late a start as possible would be the most beneficial.”

But from a teaching standpoint, Reebel disagrees. 

“I teach mostly AP World History classes,” Reebel said, “so one of my major concerns is to have an AP class that meets consistently every quarter. If you have alternating quarters where there is one quarter where students don’t have an AP class, I feel like they would have a hard time catching up and it might affect our scores and achievement.” 

Despite Reebel’s concerns, when comparing test scores and student achievement between schools on the two schedules, the school on the block schedule isn’t always at a noticeable deficit. Pleasant Grove has the highest proficiency scores in the district based on the last round of state testing – 79% of students were proficient in English and 66% were proficient in math. But the second highest performing school in the district scored a 74% in English proficiency and 57% in math proficiency while using a block schedule. 

The only other high school on a traditional schedule, Elk Grove, scored in the bottom half of the district’s in-person, non-alternative high schools on the reading and math proficiency tests. So, while schedule could be a contributing factor to learning, there are evidently other issues to consider. 

Spanish teacher Justin Hirst also wants to stick with the traditional schedule. Having taught on a block schedule at Franklin High School for three years before coming to Pleasant Grove, he’s had experience with both schedules and still highly prefers a traditional six-period, year-long schedule. 

Hirst expressed concern about a block schedule’s effect on learning retention, and also dislikes the pace of block classes. Since students were changing courses every nine weeks at Franklin, he felt like they didn’t have enough time in class and were constantly having to change textbooks.

“It was so fast,” Hirst said. “You go for half the amount of days, but only 1.5 times the time, so you get a lot less instruction. So, I always felt like the students never quite felt prepared. They didn’t have as much knowledge. They didn’t have all the practice that they’d normally have.”

Also, whereas many students think they’d have less stress under a block schedule, Hirst argued the opposite, saying not only was there a finals week every nine weeks, but it was even harder to catch up after an absence. 

“If you miss a day on a block schedule,” Hirst said, “it’s like missing two days of regular school, and if you miss a week, it’s like you’re lost. You’re gone.” 

Hirst said he believes the real problem isn’t Pleasant Grove’s schedule, but some of the school’s philosophy. He thinks the pressure the school puts on students to take AP classes and what he considers unnecessary courses causes the stress students are associating with the traditional schedule. 

“I personally just think that our school in particular is pushing too much for kids to do too many things,” Hirst said. “There’s too many academies, there’s too many extra classes that they always require, and that’s the whole problem with our schedule.” 

Reebel mentioned something similar in his defense of the traditional schedule, saying students should be able to relax and enjoy themselves more and that he wished “there was a little more leisure instead of hustle.” 

Or, as Hirst jokingly said, “I think high schoolers should be high schoolers and not worry about finishing college while they’re in high school.”