School Showcase Feature: Bloomfield High School

Guest post by Chris Jennings:

What happens when you create an opportunity for students to choose where they will go and what they will do during the school day? Chaos? Anarchy? At Bloomfield High School in New Jersey, we discovered that students may surprise you.

During the 2011-12 school year, a group of students and administrators met throughout the year to discuss how we could work within the confines of our existing seven-period day to create more opportunities for students to have independent time for clubs, extra help, and teacher meetings. When I opened the discussion to the staff, one of our teachers recommended we take a look at Princeton High School’s “Wednesday” schedule. We did, and we adopted a similar schedule for the 12-13 school year. We have not looked back.

The basic premise is this: Each Wednesday, we shorten each period by eight minutes to allow for an activity period that runs during normal school hours – in our case, from 1:40-2:35. During this period, every school employee is unencumbered and available for students. Teachers and counselors can meet with students individually, in small groups, or as a whole class. Tests are retaken or made up, labs are completed, homework is done, and questions are answered.

You get the picture – but the catch is that at 1:40 school is dismissed, and students can choose whether or not they participate in the activity period. This is the part that made the grown-ups nervous. What if they all choose to leave? It took a leap of faith, but a year and a half later we consistently have 1,000 students choosing to stay in school and work with teachers. We relax school rules about hats, iPods, and cell phones during this period, and students are allowed stay for just ten minutes or beyond the duration of the period. We trust students to make decisions that are in their best interest, and they genuinely appreciate having the freedom. In my seven years as principal at BHS, I have not been involved in another decision that has been so universally accepted by students, teachers, and parents. The Wednesday Activity Period has become an important component of our approach to differentiate school for our students.

Chris Jennings is the principal of Bloomfield High School. Bloomfield High School will be one of 22 schools featured at the Breaking Ranks School Showcase at Ignite 2014. The Bloomfield team will be presenting Transforming a Title I High School through Culture, Collaboration, and Curriculum on Thursday, February 6th.  For more on Bloomfield High School, check out the article published in the May 2012 issue of Principal Leadership.

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