More than 200 parents, students and teachers turned out at Corona del Mar High School on Monday, July 27, to protest a recent Newport-Mesa Unified School District decision to teach middle and high school students in longer blocks.
They also criticized the district for not getting input from teachers at the high school, which is the largest campus in the district.
The protesters carried signs saying “Double the Work, Half the Time” and “You can’t teach 2,000 years of history in 4 months.”
The group, including representatives from Costa Mesa High School, is pushing for a re-think of a board decision last week on how subjects would be taught in the upcoming school year.
In that new plan, the students’ curriculum would be split between the fall and spring semesters, with a portion of the subjects taught for a couple of hours each day during one semester and the other subjects taught the second semester – a contrast to the traditional method of studying all subjects throughout the year.
District officials said a panel of educators developed the block learning plan. Critics say those who worked on the program were hand-picked by district leadership.
“Our collective goal is for the NMUSD board to recall the block learning plan and revert to our normal bell schedule,” said Gabi Gomes, an incoming senior at Corona del Mar High, who was at the protest and is enrolled in three AP courses. Gomes started a petition on Change.org last week that has received thousands of signatures.
Supporters praise the district-approved plan as innovative, saying students can be immersed in their subjects and get more focused input from teachers. Critics said the program would place extra stress on students, especially those taking AP classes. They also worry there will be learning gaps when students skip half a year with a subject and then are expected to take AP tests on that topic six months later.
“We are the largest school in the district and highest performing in the district,” said Kristen James, a parent of four in Corona del Mar High who organized Monday’s protest at the high school where 75% of students take AP classes. “We did not have any representation and there was no opposing view to the plan presented.
“They took a vote without union endorsement, without listening to more than 300 opposing comments from the public,” she said. “More importantly, they voted on a plan, without doing basic research that would prove it could not be properly implemented to serve our students and teachers.”
District officials did not provide access to anyone who worked on the curriculum model for an interview, but provided a statement from Martha Fluor, president of the school board.
“We approved this model because we believe it has multiple benefits to both students and teachers,” she said. “We must always, and especially now, prioritize social and emotional needs of our students and staff. This model provides greater connections among teachers and students if in-person instruction is not possible.
“I feel that this model relieves stress due to students and teachers only having to focus on three to four classes at a time (as opposed to six to eight classes),” she said. “Teachers also will have half the amount of students to focus on each semester, therefore allowing for greater connections and supports, crucially important during this time that we find ourselves in.”
Vanessa Valdes, who teaches AP courses, including in art and world history, at Corona del Mar High School, was among those at the protest opposing the plan.
“Some of the biggest concerns is that students won’t have time to process information for long-term retention,” said Valdes, also an alumna of the high school. “Even in college, art history and world history isn’t crammed into one semester.”
Valdes said she got into teaching because she understands the struggles high school students go through. She is most concerned about the mental health impacts on all students, and not just those in AP classes, she said.
To simply say that AP students should be better prepared for stress is wrong, she said. “AP students are just as stressed as regular students, they all have their everyday stresses.”
Source: Orange County Register