In October of 2016, we began researching the concept of our middle and high school students moving to something called a Variable Schedule. In a Variable Schedule, students take the same number of courses they do in a traditional schedule, however the time is rearranged. This idea appealed to us for many reasons. A constant struggle for teachers and students involves time - time to get more deeply into a topic or project, and time to really explore and enjoy an elective course. In a traditional schedule, classes are short - only about 50 minutes. A common frustration for teachers and students is that it often feels as though they've barely begun, and the bell rings. This is especially difficult in elective classes that involve a lot of hands-on work, such as Culinary, Welding, or Greenhouse. A frustration for the District was trying to implement programs with community partnerships - community organizations and local experts often found it difficult to plan for a project that could happen for only 50 minutes at a specific time in the day, yet has to go all semester. In the traditional schedule, the best that could often be managed was short presentations. The main benefit of a Variable Schedule is that time is organized differently. Teachers and students have ample time to go more in-depth into their courses, community businesses, organizations, and local experts can participate in the school program in a meaningful way, and the school can offer a wider array of electives for ALL students to enjoy.
In a traditional schedule, students took 7 classes, and those classes were held every day, all year. This was done to meet time requirements for high school credit in a course. Classes lasted around 50 minutes each. The classes were a mixture of "core" required classes, and usually a couple of "elective" classes.
In a Variable Schedule, students still take 6-7 classes. However, since time is rearranged, they take their courses in two different cycles. A "core" cycle (named the Land schedule) consisting of 4 classes, and an "elective" cycle (named the Aurora schedule) consisting of 2 classes. There is also a continuous period that runs through both cycles, much like a traditional class. This rearrangement still meets the time requirements for high school credit, but allows more time for things like big projects, field trips, community involvement, and hands-on application of learning.
"Core" Cycle - The Land (Nén’k’et)
During the Land cycle, students take 4 of their core classes, like English, math, science and social studies. The classes last about 70 minutes. Each Land schedule lasts four weeks.
"Elective" Cycle - The Aurora (Yadíimeey)
Then students switch to the Aurora schedule, each Aurora lasting two weeks. Students take two electives of their choosing, and each class lasts 2 1/2 hours each. Then when two weeks are up they switch back to their Land schedule. Each semester, a student will have three Land cycles and three Aurora cycles.
One class runs continuously through both cycles all year long. This continuous period is shorter - around 45 minutes- and is used for teachers to work with students who need tutoring or support in their core or elective classes. That way, even during an Aurora cycle, a student struggling with a Land class can still receive intensive support for that class. Continuous period can fill the need for one-on-one time with teachers, tutoring, make-up work, and other needs students have for support. It is also possible that a couple of regular courses might be offered during the continuous period, such as foreign language. If that happens, students could use this period as though it were a period from the old traditional schedule - it runs all year, through both Land and Aurora schedules, and take a class for credit. So besides being a period for students to receive intensive help and support in their classes, this period can serve the purpose of another credit as well, if it is determined that would better fit a student's needs.