Balanced School Day Pilot – FLVT (elementary) – 2020-21
We are continuing to plan for the next year; unfortunately, due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, we are unsure of a lot of things. We are preparing for a typical start to the year, although there will be some changes in our new normal to address social and physical distancing requirements.
Earlier this year, we started our initial planning for the 2020-2021 school year. One idea that intrigued us for our elementary students was implementing a Balanced School Day (BSD). Of the thirteen schools with elementary students in our school division, four schools follow a Balanced School Day; therefore, some of us had heard of it or had some experiences with it. We are planning to implement a Balanced School Day for next year as a pilot. At this point, we want to share with you some information and thoughts, starting with “What is a Balanced School Day?”
What is a Balanced School Day?
A Balanced School Day is a different approach to structuring the school day. Instead of the traditional classes, recess, classes, lunch, classes, recess, and classes approach, the Balanced School Day has classes, nutrition break/recess, classes, nutrition break/recess, and classes. In both structures, the amount of time away from classes is the same.
We have not finalized our elementary bell times for next year yet, but here are the draft times:
From Monday to Thursday, students would have a block of morning classes, and then a Nutrition Break at 10:33 am for 10 minutes. The 1st Nutrition Break would be a time to have light snacks. Students would be in their classroom, and microwaves would not be available. After this 1st Nutrition Break, students would go outside for a twenty-minute recess. After recess, there would again be a large block of time for classes followed by another Nutrition Break. This 2nd Nutrition Break at 12:54 pm would act more like a lunch period. Our Grade 1 to 3 students would eat in the canteen (please note this may change due to the COVID-19 pandemic), while our Grade 4 to 6 students would eat in their classroom. Microwaves would be available. During the 2nd Nutrition Break, the students would have 20 minutes to eat and then go outside for a twenty-minute recess. After recess, students would have a final block of classes until the end of the day dismissal. Friday’s would be very similar to our current Friday with a 15-minute Nutrition Break to eat and a 15-minute recess outside.
Why are we trying the BSD?
Ultimately we think that the Balanced School Day approach will improve student learning. Here are the reasons:
- It increases student instructional time. By reducing the breaks from three to two, it eliminates a transition time. If we save five minutes a day by doing this, it can save twenty minutes a week, 80 minutes a month and therefore, between 13 to 14 hours in a year.
- It allows us to create large blocks of time that teachers can focus on numeracy and literacy.
- By having two nutrition breaks, students will not get hungry during the day and be more focused on their learning, especially at the end of the day.
- Due to having more prolonged outdoor recesses, students will be more active.
- Although the time is the same, going to two outdoor breaks, rather than three lowers discipline issues (most elementary discipline issues occur during recess).
- Research indicates that smaller amounts eaten over two periods are more nutritious for all students. We met with our Health Promotion Facilitator from Alberta Health Services to get her insights. She felt the balanced school day would be beneficial in providing more frequent smaller meals and extended time outside.
- We contacted teachers and parents that are currently following the balanced school day. All the teachers are very positive about the approach. They claim students are more focused throughout the day, especially at the day of the day. They inform us students eat more often and enjoy spending long periods outside. Parents provide similar feedback. Giving the possible choice of returning to the traditional day, all teachers said they would stay with the balanced school day approach.
One reality that we have at Father Leonard Van Tighem is our structure of being a K to 9 school. Although this reality is terrific, it does provide some unique challenges. We are one school, but sometimes we are two schools under one roof; one Elementary and one Jr. High. We hope that the balanced school day approach in our Elementary helps the educational environment of both our Elementary and Jr. High classes. Only having two longer breaks for our Elementary students and the traditional bell times of our Jr. High students should create better learning environments.
This year I taught a Grade 5 class in period 6. At this time, our Jr. High students are on lunch break. Although our supervisors do their best to lessen the noise in the hallway, often, the hallway noise affects the learning environment in the class. Jr. High teachers have expressed the same concerns when our elementary students are in the hallway. Under the structure of the balanced school day, hallway noise should reduce.
We plan on implementing the balanced school day approach as a pilot for the 2020-21 school year. Throughout the school year, we will monitor the program and make any necessary adjustments. Also, we will survey students, parents, and staff to measure its success. In the spring of 2021, we will do some final surveys with all the stakeholders to see if the pilot will continue or not.
Some Common Questions and Answers:
- What should I pack for my student’s lunch?
- Answer – We always want to see students eat healthily. Instead of the traditional recess snack and noon-hour lunch, students will have two nutritional breaks at 10:33 am and 12:54 pm. By 10:33 am, your child may not want to eat a lot, but by 12:54 pm, they may be hungry. The challenge will be for students not to overeat in the first nutritional break and keep enough food for the second nutritional break. In past experiences, students needed more substantial lunches and separate containers. Here are some excellent websites to check regarding what to pack for a balanced school day lunch:
- What if my child gets hungry in class?
- Answer – Staff is supportive of the pilot program. They will monitor students, and if they believe students are hungry, they will allow students to snack in class. Also, with a recent successful nutrition grant, our school has purchases two small fridges. They will in the gathering space and our counsellor’s office. These fridges will have healthy snacks (we may have to change student access to the new fridges due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
- Where will the student be eating?
- Answer – For the first nutritional breaks, the students will be eating in their classrooms. For the second nutrition breaks, students in Grade 1 to 3 will be in the canteen (please note this may change due to the COVID-19 pandemic), while Grade 4 to 6 students will be in their classrooms. We simply do not have the space to have all the students in the canteen. Grade 4 to 6 students will have access to the canteen to make purchases (again, this may change due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
- Will there be microwaves available?
- Answer – During the first nutrition break, we are asking students not be to bring microwaveable snacks. Although some classes due have microwaves, there simply is not enough time to heat food and eat it. The first nutrition break is not mealtime, but a time for snacks. During the second nutrition break, microwaves are available in the canteen and some classrooms. We do still recommend no microwaveable meals, only due to the time factor. Please do not bring meals that require a lot of heating time since microwave time is limited. As our school gets larger in student numbers some days, the line up for microwaves can belong.
- Will I be asked if I liked the Balanced School Day?
- Answer – Throughout the year, we will survey students, parents, and staff about the balanced school day. Hopefully, by mid-May, we can share the results and decide about the 2021-22 school year.
- Is the schedule and bell times set in stone?
- Answer – No. As this is new to us, we may have to change some times and routines as we experience the balanced school day.
Initially, we had planned to have a parent meeting to discuss this pilot; unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is not possible. We did introduce the Balanced School Day concept at the April and May School Council meeting to provide parent input. We look forward to this pilot to help improve the learning at our school. Please contact the school if you have any questions.