PHS Takes on a New Bell Schedule

by Deedee Alpert (she/her)

A new bell schedule that implemented longer school hours and restructured class periods has challenged Petaluma High students and staff to be patient as the school continues to regain normalcy and routine.

This change is a direct outcome of California Senate Bill 328, which declared no public school could count registered hours of instruction before 8:30 A.M. Governor Gavin Newsom approved the bill in October 2019 due to research taken over the last three decades on teenage brain chemistry. The resulting conclusion revealed moving school start times forward would lead to better-rested students, improving their overall health and happiness.

Although this bill had positive intentions, changing the previous systems has created new problems for high schools across California. Locally, SB 328 nullified the use of the zero period, classes from 7:30-8:20 A.M., which previously brought PHS to the mandatory 64,800 yearly minutes necessary for an operating school.

With the former schedule newly ineligible, PHS had to work from the ground up in making a new schedule. “We found it as an opportunity to collaborate because we have kids that go from this side of town to Casa Grande High School during the day,” said PHS Principal Giovanni Napoli. “With the [Petaluma City Schools] district administration we took a general look at the expectations of what we needed to do and sought out staff feedback in a very short amount of time.”

In the week before school began, PHS staff ultimately voted for and implemented the schedule they felt would be most beneficial under the circumstances. A standard PHS school day begins at 8:30 A.M. and ends at 3:20 P.M., with three 90-minute class periods a day that each integrate a 25-minute Academic Plus (A+) period after teacher instruction. On Wednesday there is no A+, classes are 20-minutes longer and students are released early at 2:50 P.M.

Though the nearly two hour periods are not preferred by most students and staff, the other options to reach the 64,800 necessary instructional minutes would involve extending the school year, a solution most would find less agreeable.

Four days a week, these two hour classes are broken up by an A+ period for the final 25 minutes. During A+, students have autonomy in how to spend their time; most study and complete assignments, while others check in with teachers or chat with friends.

“I find A+ to be productive but I can get all of my work done in one and just sit there for the other two,” said junior Natalie Frances. Because both early-release and normal days end later than the 2021-22 year, the 45 additional A+ minutes in the current schedule help counteract the reduced time for homework and after-school activities.

Students are not the only ones who benefit from the A+ periods, as teachers too have built in time to grade, prep and keep students on task. “Initially I thought I would be resistant to the change, but I actually really love the schedule,” English and Psychology teacher Heather Archibald. “Having time in A+ allows me to reflect on the class and helps me prepare for my next classes.”

As of October 11, PHS and Casa Grande will run a typical 3-day, minimum day schedule for finals. Both PHS administration and teaching staff will continue to work with Casa Grande and PCS to review the regular schedule for spring semester and beyond.