Sandy Sager has seen the future of high school scheduling and, despite some initial doubts, gives it her stamp of approval.
Until this year, Sandy, like most high school students in the Buffalo area, took about eight 40-minute classes a day. Now, she has just four daily classes, but each is 80 minutes long.
"I don't think anybody wanted it at first," said Sandy, a senior at Eden Junior-Senior High School. "Everybody likes it now."
Last month, Eden became one of the first local school districts to adopt high school "block scheduling," which is designed to provide more opportunity for hands-on and group learning, less wasted time passing from class to class, and greater classroom flexibility.
"It's something more and more districts are investigating and implementing," said Jennifer G. Sneed, a state Education Department coordinator who monitors block scheduling. "I see it greatly growing and expanding."
Already, block scheduling is common in Michigan, Texas, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, as well as in the Atlanta area, Ms. Sneed said.
More than half the districts in Erie County are considering some form of block scheduling, said Joseph Gentile, principal of Clarence High School and president of the Erie County Secondary Principals Association.
"There's a reluctance to be the first," Gentile said. "When one school district does it successfully, you'll soon have a dozen more."
Buffalo's Grover Cleveland High School is likely to adopt block scheduling next year. Longer classes would be especially helpful for foreign-born students trying to learn English through reading, writing, listening and speaking, said Benjamin L. Randle, principal at Grover Cleveland.
Clarence High School is exploring the possibility of extending class periods to 60 minutes from 40 minutes in 1999. If that proves unworkable, the school could turn to block scheduling and even longer class periods, Gentile said.
At Fredonia High School, Principal Terry Redman last month informed students that class periods, now 40 minutes, will be stretched to 75 minutes in the next school year.
"The state is pushing schools to change what they're doing," Redman told the students. "Do you want to be the leader or do you want to be the follower?"
Block scheduling can work well when it is consistent with a district's educational goals, said Bob Stevenson, chairman of the department of educational organization, administration and policy at the University at Buffalo's Graduate School of Education.
"The concern is that schools don't just jump on the bandwagon and say: 'This is the thing to do. This is going to change everything,' " Stevenson said. "If it's just seen as the latest fad, you know what happens with fads."
Block scheduling is spurred by the sense that traditional 40-minute periods are not long enough to accommodate computer instruction, hands-on projects that require preparation and cleanup, and the more interactive, free-flowing classroom atmosphere that schools are seeking.
Block scheduling also frees up time for individual instruction during the school day and cuts down on the amount of time students are in the hallway and most likely to have discipline problems.
"The teachers came to us and said 40 minutes is just not enough," Redman told the Fredonia students. "You get started and you have to shut down."
In Fredonia, students will continue to take about eight courses each semester but will have classes in four of them one day, and the other four the next.
Eden has gone beyond that and adopted a "semestering" system in the high school in which students take just four courses a semester and attend those classes 80 minutes each day. They complete those courses in one semester, rather than a full year, and then take four more courses in the second semester.
Keiah Williams, an Eden senior, said the new format allows her to concentrate more on individual subjects.
"If you have eight classes a day and have homework in every one, you can't really focus on one thing," she said.
The scheduling changes have caught on quickly, said Richard Castiglia, the dean of students.
"The tone of the school, in terms of the kids and the attitudes of the teachers, is far more positive," he said.
Rita Bell, a Course 1 math teacher, said she now has time in a single class to have students tackle a few problems, review the previous night's homework assignment, introduce new material, have students work in groups, and go over that work as a class.
While block scheduling provides new opportunities, it also presents potential problems. Lectures or uninspired lessons that have students watching the clock for 40 minutes could seem interminable over 80 minutes.
"It forces me to really plan my lessons and include a lot of variety," said Mary Beth De Glopper, a seventh- and eighth-grade social studies teacher in Eden.
Where semestering is adopted, students might go as long as a year between related classes, especially sequential math courses. That raises questions about how much of the material they will remember.
Major schedule changes also can be highly controversial, as was the case in Eden, where 587 signatures were collected on petitions asking that semestering be scrapped.
"There's nothing more difficult than change," said Thomas Christopher, district superintendent. "You have to let people know this is something that's not new, that it's not an experiment. It works all over the place, and the pros far outweigh the cons."