This ain’t your parents' school schedule.
For several learners in the Louis Riel School Division (LRSD), the traditional school day has been shaken up and reorganized as a way to increase physical activity and well-being.
Two schools in the division, École Provencher and Lavallee School, have deviated from the old schedule that had two 15-minute recesses and an hour for lunch in exchange for one that has three 100-minute blocks of instructional time and two nutritional/fitness breaks. This balanced approach to education is aptly named a balanced school day.
Although the two school’s daily schedules look slightly different, the benefits are the same: extended physical activity for students, more opportunities to eat throughout the day, more prep time and collaboration among teachers and maximized learning with fewer interruptions and transitions.
The schedule switch-up in École Provencher was championed by Celeste Dilka, Student Services Teacher, based on her positive experience with it when she worked in a different school division.
“I’ve never worked in a school with a ‘traditional’ schedule,” said Dilka. “It was difficult to adjust, and I felt like I was always rushed and that there was a lot of wasted time.”
Working with Lyette Carrière, the former principal of École Provencher, and David Charney, Vice Principal, the three educators joined forces to create a plan of action. After months of research and consultations with staff, parents and senior leadership, École Provencher announced it would be implementing a balanced school day at the start of the 2019-2020 school year.
“There was a bit of a learning curve at the beginning, but overall, it’s been pretty smooth,” said Shelly Hynes, a Grade 3 teacher at École Provencher. “I’ve noticed the students aren’t as tired at the end of the day. Kids learn better in the morning—they're more focused—so this schedule helps them stay engaged.”
Students in Hynes’ class also agree with her assessment of the new schedule.
“I like that we don’t have to stop and start a bunch of times,” said Ruby, a student in Grade 3. “We don’t have to rush and put our winter clothes on and off and on and off. Also, there’s more time to play with friends.”
For some learners, getting dressed for recess in the winter months can be challenging and time consuming, especially for younger students. With two longer recess breaks instead of three shorter ones, students are outside longer and transitions between classes are easier.
As one of the recess supervisors, Charney sees the benefits first-hand.
“The balanced school day allows for so much more authentic, play-based learning,” said Charney. “Students can start a game and actually finish it within the new half-hour break. I think it’s reduced feelings of anxiety because kids aren’t rushed to get outside and have the time to problem solve, build friendships and work together.”
Although increased physical activity is an important focus of the balanced school day, improved well-being is also a priority. École Provencher has a daily 15-minute mental health break in the afternoon to help students refocus and learn about mindfulness. These breaks can include activities such as colouring, breathing exercises or quiet time.
Katie Anderson, who has one son in pre-school and one in Grade 3, said she sees a big difference in her oldest since he’s been a part of a balanced school day.
“My son, Paolo, has developed a new vocabulary around mental health. He’s able to express the way he’s feeling and recognizes when he needs to step back and take a break. He’s also coming home feeling more tired, in a good way, because of the focus on physical wellness.”
While the new schedule is showing a positive impact on learners, teachers have also been experiencing the benefits. Michèle Olson, Principal at École Provencher, said she’s noticed an increase in collaboration among staff.
“The longer blocks of time outdoors for students means longer blocks of prep time for our staff,” said Olson. “Teachers can take time for themselves, debrief and collaborate with one another. We’ve held staff meetings during the breaks, and I’ve even seen a few teachers starting to do yoga together!”
Shelly Hopper, Principal at Lavallee School, also saw an increase in staff satisfaction.
“Staff were enthusiastic about the change to a balanced school day. Teachers are able to plan comprehensive lessons that are not interrupted by frequent transitions and often mention that the days actually feel shorter.”
Lavallee School was the first to implement the balanced school day in LRSD in the fall of 2017. Now in the school’s third year with the new schedule, Hopper says keeping an open and ongoing dialogue with the community is key to the continued success of the new schedule.
“The biggest question from parents was in regard to packing lunches and ensuring that students had opportunities to eat at both breaks within the day,” said Hopper. “We found it helpful to provide additional and ongoing support to students and families about packing nutritious lunches that are easily separated into two parts. We’ve noticed that students are eating more of their lunches throughout the day."
With students in kindergarten to Grade 8, administration at Lavallee School has had to adapt the school day schedule to ensure it fits everyone’s needs.
“There are a few times throughout the year that require some shuffling,” said Hopper. “For example, if Practical Arts for Grade 7 and 8 students is in the afternoon, those students will follow a more typical schedule. We’ve also made accommodations for substitutes and part-time staff working mornings or afternoons.”
Despite the need for occasional adjustments, the switch to a balanced school day for Lavallee School and École Provencher has been a relatively easy transition and a change that Mark, a Grade 3 École Provencher learner, hopes is here to stay.
“It’s way better and I never want to go back to the other kind of day.”