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Is Homeroom Necessary?

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The West Jefferson Hills school district, near Pittsburgh, recently changed the schedule at Thomas Jefferson High School. Starting with the 2014-15 school year, students will have eight class periods rather than seven, plus lunch.

Where did they find the extra time? They got rid of homeroom, which currently takes up 21 minutes at the start of each day. (The district schedulers also gained 13 minutes by starting school earlier and more time by shaving a minute off each class period.)

Currently, students spend the first 17 minutes of the day in homeroom, listening to announcements and hanging out. Then they have four minutes to get to their first class. In the fall, homeroom will be gone, and the first period of the day will be a regular 42-minute class followed by 10 minutes of announcements.

The school district decided to change the schedule because educators noticed that many students were skipping lunch to squeeze in another class, Superintendent Michael Panza told me. With eight class periods available to them, students can more easily take arts electives, Advanced Placement courses, or four years of a language (which, as the Time and Learning blog has written about, Ivy League universities like to see).

The school's vocational students benefit, too, Panza noted. They currently have time for just three or four classes before they need to leave campus for the work portion of their education; in the fall they will be able to fit in five classes and lunch.

"If we can use the time for instruction, it enhances the students' transcripts and their portfolios," Panza said. He also believes hitting the ground running builds good habits.

"It's a better way to get going," he said. "When you come to work, does your boss want you to sit there, drink coffee, and talk to your coworkers? We're preparing kids for life after high school."

With the schedule change, Thomas Jefferson High joins many schools that have ditched homeroom in the scramble to squeeze in as much learning as possible during the school day.

But other schools still see value in homeroom, particularly in the lower grades. For example, the Queens, N.Y., campus of the private United Nations International School, which covers grades K-8, includes two 10-minute homeroom periods during the day for its middle school students.

Scheduled at the beginning and the end of the day, the homeroom periods are important for the students, Barbara Kennedy, that school's assistant principal, told me. "Middle school students are moving all the time from class to class, and it gives them a home base," she said. "At the beginning of the day, it's a check-in with a teacher who's looking out for them—'remember, today there's a speaker' or 'school dismissal is 10 minutes early today.' At the end of the day it's a check-out—they can ask each other, 'What was the math homework again?' "

Readers, what do you say? Is homeroom an important part of the school day or could the time be spent in a more productive way?

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