Un-official study hall

Posted on 01.07.2013


33 Juniors and I are breaking a school rule: students should either be in a class or in the cafeteria   Instead, we’re spending our lunch period in one of the 4 rooms I teach in.

I don’t want to leave you in suspense, we won’t get in trouble.  In fact, most days there is a teacher ‘chaperoning’ these students as they eat their lunch in this classroom.  They simply want a quiet place to eat.

and more importantly a space to work.

Every now and then I glance around the room and hear snippets of their conversation as I grade, eat and respond to emails. They aren’t loud and they aren’t running around. I see students sitting together talking excitedly while others are by themselves or in groups of two working quietly. Every now and then I see some excited movement or the room gets louder and then quickly quiets down.

They barely acknowledge my presence.

Three times I was interrupted by students asking me academic questions – although one related to the movie Castaway.  Once I asked the students to quiet down the room.  They did and I continued to write this post.

Juniors during their lunch period

Juniors during their lunch period

As I scan the room and listen to what they are talking about I realize they are all focused on school work.  All of them.  Sure their conversations have tangental topics (the psychology of talking to a volley ball), but they are focused on school.  They are laughing, they are joking, and they are productive in their work.  Some might even think they are enjoying the labor of school.

It kinda feels like study hall.  And it’s kinda awesome.

These students are considered to be in the most rigorous and achievement based program at Northeast.  Their curriculum is set by the International Baccalaureate program; their schedule is so full that they aren’t permitted to take electives.  Their teachers are encouraged to add additional rigor to their classes to prepare them for the IB tests at the end of their Junior and Senior year.  On top of which, they are expected to get some of the highest scores on state tests in order to ‘carry the school.’  IB students expect to go to a prestigious college and achieve great things academically.  Needless to say, they have a very full plate.

And here they are during their lunch period, the one free period they have during the day.  The one period that isn’t a class.

It’s clear they need this time they need a time: this time is valuable to them; not just socially, not just emotionally, but academically.  It’s a time they are using to reflect, to study and to be around each other in a low pressure academic setting.  The bottom line is that these students have a serious work load and they are serious about it.  They need academic free time to work on their studies in a supportive peer group they simply cannot get at home.

Northeast doesn’t have study hall periods, for the past 4 years I have worked there I haven’t heard of them.  I find it beautifully ironic and somewhat tragic that the students themselves have created it despite the school policies.

I wonder, as a principal and educational leader, how did it come to this?  How can we ask so much of our students while not providing them with formal time in their schedule to get their work done?  We talk of study skills, of time management, of peer learning groups but at no point create a space in school to help our students develop these things.

Shame on us for losing sight of study hall and I am proud of our students for creating one after all.

Posted in: curriculum, Ed-talk