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The new eight-period schedule goes into effect next school year (2017-18). This FAQ was developed to help address common inquiries from families and students regarding the new 4 x 8 schedule. 


What is the rationale for making the shift to the eight period schedule?

The eight period schedule will help us in our vision to improve student balance, enhance flexibility and increase elective opportunities at the high school level. The decision to adjust from six to eight periods was made over many months of collaboration, research and thoughtful feedback from our high school students, staff and administrators in the 2015-16 school year. We announced in April 2016 that we would be implementing the eight period schedule in the 2017-18 school year, the same year we are changing school start and end times.


How will the new schedule impact homework? Will students now have more homework under the new schedule?

The intention of the new schedule is not to increase homework for students. The High School Schedule Implementation Advisory Group’s recommendation includes instructional guidelines for staff. Here are the proposed guidelines:

Homework Guidelines for Teachers

  1. Consider purpose of homework. Is it for practice, to check for understanding on which to base instruction or an opportunity for students to apply new skills? Match homework to learning targets and make it efficient.
  2. Ensure that assignments are critical to student learning and meaningful for all learners.
  3. Ensure that all students can access and accomplish the assigned work; differentiating homework is effective practice (not all students need the same tasks, deadlines, support, etc.).
  4. Adjust/prioritize curriculum and instructional practices to new time frame; don’t increase homework to make up for reduced instructional minutes.
  5. Collaborate around big projects and assessments to consider the effect on shared students.


How many credits are needed to graduate? How does this differ from what the state requires?

Based on a six period methodology, the state requires a minimum of 24 credits to graduate. We have consistently required additional credits beyond the state minimum.

With the new schedule in place, the class of 2021 (next year’s freshman) will be able to graduate with 32 credits. The new requirements will be phased in with the classes of 2018, 2019 and 2020 because part of students’ high school careers were under a six period schedule.

We are requiring 30 credits to graduate (as opposed to 32) to maximize flexibility and students ability to choose courses that will ultimately support them in developing both areas that they are passion about and significant skills that prepare them for life after high school. We anticipate that most students will graduate with 32 credits, and we expect students to be fully enrolled during their high school career (extenuating circumstances notwithstanding). Requiring 30 credits can also give struggling students some capacity to still graduate on time, even if they do not earn credit for a couple classes or otherwise face extenuating circumstances.

While credits are important, our high schools are committed to engaging all high school students with purposeful, inspiring instruction during their four years (in some cases, it could be longer) and offering classes 180 days per school year.  Credit requirements are one benchmark; other measures and evidence are also significant as we consider the development of the whole child – one of Bellingham Public Schools’ core beliefs.


What are schools doing to help students who feel/experience stress and/or anxiety? Will more classes add to these issues?

We are working hard to balance many needs within the high school schedule, including time for instruction, student support, and studying/homework completion.

Currently, student support and intervention varies from school to school. As a system, we are planning to offer two 30-minute student support times per week (see the next question and answer below), along with additional options for academic support and leadership, AVID and more.

It’s also important to note that we have been intentionally adding deans and other key support staff (like success coordinators) to our high schools to help students access help or support. We are also considering adding counselor support in the upcoming budget process.

While we expect our students to challenge themselves, it is not our intention to have students load up on rigorous courses only. The purpose of the expanded schedule is to bring calm to a student’s day with fewer classes per day (four instead of six), less rushing from class-to-class (fewer passing times), and more opportunity to take electives that don’t necessarily result in more homework (i.e. yoga, music, art, etc.).


Are we going to continue to have THOR, SSR/RtI/Anchor classes?

The high school schedule implementation advisory group is recommending two 30-minute support classes (currently called THOR, SSR/RtI, and Anchor ), be offered every Wednesday and Thursday.

The advisory group surveyed students and staff about support time, and results were mixed. Students expressed strong interest in having student support time embedded in the schedule, either daily or twice a week. Staff offered an important perspective about how students actually used the time (not all students use this time as intended) and keenly understand the advantages and disadvantages of embedding such time into the schedule. We are not only considering students’ perspectives, but also instructional time for courses and alternative ways to offer student support in an expanded schedule. For example, we are currently working to develop optional academic workshop classes for students as part of our course offerings, as well as expanding AVID, a class that supports students in graduating and preparing for college.  As an example, it is feasible for a student to take a rigorous course load balanced with classes that don’t tend to result in heavy homework responsibilities and an academic workshop where time will be allocated for work completion.


How will the new schedule work with Advanced Placement (AP) classes? And will there be a maximum number of AP classes a student can take?

All of our teachers will be adjusting their instructional practices under the 4 x 8 schedule, including AP teachers. We’re adding optional academic workshop classes for students, time which will support students in getting extra help (from staff or peers) and completing their work.

Our eight period schedule (defined in minutes per class per school year) falls into the College Board’s recommended instructional time ahead of the AP tests in May. It’s also important to note that AP classes and tests are becoming less about memorizing content and more about students’ deeper understanding of concepts. While still a work in progress for some AP subjects, the College Board is making an intentional shift.

Our school year calendar has changed in recent years, and we now start before Labor Day, which helps give AP teachers and students more time with the material. Currently, all AP tests are administered in early May.  We are working with the College Board to increase flexibility in our AP testing window in an effort to shift some (not all) AP test dates back by a week or two. Stay tuned!


Will students still be able to get waivers for physical education (P.E.)?

The 4 x 8 schedule allows Bellingham Public Schools to expand our offerings in all of our subjects, including physical education. While we are not abandoning P.E. waivers entirely, we anticipate that students will be excited about some of our new courses and will now be able to take advantage of more educational opportunities.

Students interested in obtaining a waiver must follow new processes, which are still being refined.


How long will classes be in the new schedule? How about lunch?

Classes will range from 80 to 90 minutes.

Lunch breaks will be 35 minutes.

On Monday, Tuesday and Friday, most classes will be 85 minutes. There will be a ten-minute passing time for snack/bathroom breaks at 9:55 a.m.

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, most classes will be 80 minutes and student support time will be held (Thor, SSR/RtI or Anchor) for 30 minutes in between first and second periods on A days and between periods 5 and 6 on B days.

For consistency and because some students may be dual-enrolled, high schools will use common language when referring to their schedules: using A day (periods 1, 2, 3 and 4) and B day (periods 5, 6, 7 and 8).


Will there still be zero hour course offerings?

No. We plan to adhere to medical research around teenage sleep patterns and offer classes beginning at 8:30 A.M.