Dear Palo Alto High School Administration,
This weekend, libraries, coffee shops and cafés were flooded with sleep-deprived high school students, their heaps of study materials and empty coffee cups engulfing tables and countertops. This is the universal indicator that it is that time of year yet again: first semester final exams. It is no secret that the stress of finals places a heavy burden on the already overloaded shoulders of Paly students. Fortunately, you provided us with a precious 140 minutes of review per class on the Friday, Monday and Tuesday before finals. While we appreciate your efforts to reduce the stress on our strained student body, we are running into the same problem that we have with many of your endeavors — it is simply not enough.
During these three days of review, teachers are instructed to not assign or collect any assignments, theoretically allowing students to have the time to review their seemingly endless pile of notes from the past semester. This is a daunting task, even with the extra time. However, this period is not nearly long enough for a student to study seven classes’ worth of semester long material.
As any Paly student has realized, their finals studying must begin far before the school’s allotted review days. Maybe this would be possible if the remainder of the week leading up to finals was treated as a normal work week, as one may expect it to be. Instead, however, teachers use this time to wrap up all of their major assignments from the semester, leaving many students with an even more rigorous work load than any given week during the past four months. As a student, it’s hard to worry about your math final in the same week that you have two tests, three projects and two presentations.
So, what is the solution?
We propose that next semester, you extend our review period two extra block periods in total. This would give students that crucial study time necessary to excel in their finals, while only taking away a single class period from teachers, still allowing plenty of time to conclude their semester’s material.
These extra two days of review would significantly decrease the stress of reviewing an entire semester of information in a period of three days. As expected, at the end of the semester, students are swamped with last unit tests, projects and presentations that cause an unimaginable amount of stress as it is. Take our friend Marissa Ludwig for example, who had three tests in her hardest classes this week. “Not only is that the first time I’ve had more than two tests back to back, but it also prohibited me from being able to start studying for finals because I was worried about the unit tests,” she told us, with exhaustion apparent in her tired eyes.
It is unreasonable to expect that during this time students can begin reviewing independently. Instead, it exponentially increases the pressure on them, as they take on the arduous task of cramming 18 weeks’ worth of material into a measly few days.
We do want to acknowledge the hard work of our teachers to schedule lessons for an immense amount of material in such a short span of time. This is why we believe that expanding our review period a mere even — and — odd block day is the best solution, and the most effective way to ensure that the needs of our student body are being met without shifting that pressure onto our staff. Teachers can certainly find a way to spread out that missing 90 minutes of instructional period throughout the semester. This minor adjustment on their part could make a major difference in our student body wellness, an issue that Paly has struggled with for years.
A second problem presents itself for classes that do not have final exams. For these teachers, extending the review period creates an array of difficulties, especially when it comes to keeping students engaged. For such classes, we are more than willing to compromise. Those teachers whose classes do not have a final exam of some sort may continue to assign classwork and homework as per usual, because if there is no special circumstance towards the end of the semester for their course, we see no reason why it should not continue normally. However, we urge these instructors to bear in mind the work load that students are faced with in other courses, and make adjustments to their curriculum accordingly. The student body would be placing a large amount of trust in these instructors to be flexible, which is critical to the success of this arrangement.
We asked Kathleen Laurence, assistant principal of innovation and learning, why this extension has not already been put into play. Her response ultimately came down to a matter of time. “The first semester is shorter than the second semester, so I think it would be difficult to extend it [the review days],” she told us. However, again, we feel that two days is a minor concession, and we believe that many students would be willing to give up a day or two of their summer vacation if it meant having this major stress reliever come winter time. Laurence told us herself, “That doesn’t mean it can’t be opened up for discussion. It just isn’t currently on the [administration’s] radar.” Our hope is that this letter begins the process of opening the discussion, and sheds a light on an issue that students have been faced with for years.
We know that you have done a lot to help decrease the stress of the students, from keeping the library open late, to giving students free dinners, to bringing in therapy dogs and we sincerely appreciate it all. However, when it comes down to it, our peers would reap the most benefits from an extra day of review in each class. This issue may not be one that is currently on the administration’s radar, but something that causes a profound amount of stress certainly should be. We hope that you will take our concerns into consideration, and turn Paly’s review period into one in which students can truly review.
Maya and Maya