Finals after break increases student stress

As the bell rings on Dec. 18 at 3:15, students go home to decorated houses. Some start packing to venture off for a long-awaited vacation, while others wait for the arrival of family and friends. Students have enthusiastically begun winter break.

Fast forward to a few days later, a student’s family has arrived in town and are downstairs enjoying quality time and embracing the holiday spirit, whereas the student is upstairs in their room frantically trying to complete semester review work to save their borderline grade.

For students and teachers, winter break is meant for family time, religious events and a mental break from school. However, students face a looming stress over break as finals occur one to two weeks after returning to school. Thus, the Oracle Editorial Board suggests the administration extends the discussion of making the transition to finals before break for the 2017-2018 school year, this being the year Dr. Michael Riggle, District 225 Superintendent, said would be the target year for such a switch.

Switching to finals before break has been considered by the administration from surveys that were emailed to Glenbrook students. From those surveys, focus groups discussed the topics that were most popular on the surveys, finals before break being one of them. According to Riggle, these focus groups helped the administration to find out why students want to have finals before break in order to ethically make the change.

The Oracle Editorial Board suggests that, if this change is made, the schedule would entail school starting mid-August, finals taking place the week before winter break and the school year ending late May. Following this format would help South’s adjustment, according to Principal Lauren Fagel. Fagel was formerly principal of Mundelein High School, which have always had their finals prior to break.

Though adjusting the school calendar wouldn’t be an easy task, the change would benefit the entire Glenbrook community. According to an unscientific Oracle-conducted survey of 261 South students, 63 percent of students said that they would prefer to have finals before winter break.

With mental health of students being a heavily debated topic lately, having finals before break would allow students time to relax without being distracted by upcoming school events. Social Worker David Hartman emphasizes the importance of using break in order to get cognitive rest.

“The more we can design breaks to be real periods of cognitive rest…and encourage [intentional academic pursuits, break’s] going to be more relaxing [and] more restful,” Hartman said.

Students receiving better scores on exams is also a potential benefit of having finals before break, since 40 percent of students indicated in the same survey that they don’t use winter break to study. Students have two weeks out of school and can often forget the things that they had worked on prior to break. Once students return from winter break they have a new beginning instead of a continuation of the same curriculum after winter break.

However, the Oracle Editorial Board does realize that this may cause an issue in regards to Thanksgiving break. It could become a trend for students to use Thanksgiving break to study for finals, thus making it a more stressful time rather than a time spent with family. Nonetheless, the Editorial Board believes that sacrificing the five days of Thanksgiving break for studying is worth it to have winter break stress-free.

The Oracle Editorial Board suggests that the District 225 administration observes the changes that District 207 made to allow for finals before break. For District 207, this is their first year under the new schedule, after using the past two schools years to plan for the change of finals before winter break. According to Ken Wallace, District 207 Superintendent, the administration spent many years discussing the change, mainly questioning what was in the best interest of the students.

“I think [finals before break] serves students best, and that is the first concern that any school should have when making decisions,” Wallace said. “[For schools interested in this change, my] advice is to communicate, seek input, listen to the input and adjust where and when possible. Once the decision has been made, the schedule soon becomes the new [norm].”

It would be useful to follow a similar schedule as District 207, being both schools are in the Central Suburban League (CSL), and thus would help decrease the conflict that could arise with sports schedules. Right now, the CSL is split with six schools who have finals before break, while the other six are after break, so revising the CSL schedule wouldn’t pose to be much of a challenge. However, it is important to keep in mind that Illinois High School Association (IHSA) games are permanently set in the calendar, so practice opportunities for sport, such as tennis and golf, would be reduced due to IHSA regulations, according to Riggle.

However, for the school to make this change the school calendar would have to be revised. According to Fagel and Riggle, complications such as coordinating department event schedules, days off and all-school assemblies would arise.

A large part of the difficulty, as mentioned by Riggle, is making sure the elementary schools are willing and able to adjust their schedules as well, for the purpose of families being able to have school breaks simultaneously. Elementary schools currently run on a schedule similar to the Glenbrooks. This allows quality time together and easy planning if a family is going on vacation.

While the Oracle Editorial Board encourages the administration to continue the discussions to make this change, we understand and encourage the student body to also understand that this process is not an easy one. There would be several factors that will be taken into consideration, so patience is key in this process.