TAMPA — Kendall Runyan packs her day with planning — for school dances, club meetings, sports practices, even for the mountains of college-level homework she’ll have to do through the International Baccalaureate program.
The secret to getting it all done for the Robinson High School senior is homeroom, the 15 minutes to 20 minutes after lunch each day when she can “finally relax.”
She’s counting her blessings that she’s not one of the Hillsborough district high school students who will see the communal class period cut from their schedules this year — joining the majority of students in the district whose schools only convene a homeroom as needed.
“I have a ton of assignments and I just don’t have the time after school to get everything done without my homeroom class,” Runyan said. “Homeroom is that very important break during the school day where I know if I have a question or need to study with friends, I’ll see them every day in homeroom.”
Runyan, along with I.B. students at Robinson and across the school district, will still have homeroom when the school year starts Tuesday. But traditional students at Robinson and Leto high schools are the next to see it cut.
Robinson Principal Johnny Bush, signalling that not all students are as productive as Runyan in their free time, said the move limits the opportunity for “kids to get in trouble when they just sit there for 15 minutes.” Leto Principal Hilda Genco said cutting homeroom will free up more academic time for students.
Blake, Brandon, Plant, and Strawberry Crest high schools will keep the practice of daily homeroom classes next school year, but the majority of the district’s 27 public high schools only use the class if there is information to pass out or a state or district standardized test is under way.
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School schedules aren’t dictated by the district and many schools abandoned daily homeroom as long as 10 years ago, said Tanya Arja, district spokeswoman. Officials at Gaither, Plant City and Middleton high schools said they will continue their practice of holding homeroom classes during the first few days of the school year only, to go over class schedules and school expectations.
Devoting time every day to a non-academic class is simply “not really an option for us these days,” said Matthew Smith, assistant principal for curriculum at Freedom High School in New Tampa.
“We made the decision not to have any non-instructional classes because we don’t want a class period where they’re off,” Smith said. “If you’re not devoting a class period to an area of study there can be discipline issues, or it becomes a class they skip. But if you keep students focused and engaged all period long, there are fewer issues.”
Abandoning a daily homeroom period also allows students more time to earn more credit hours, which helps those who may struggle to pass a certain subject but excel in other areas, he said.
Freedom worked to bring more variety to its course offerings this school year by adding musical theater, stage craft, aerobics, barbering, and advanced placement art courses like drawing and 3-D studio art, Smith said. The high school is also one of eight in the district to offer the “AP Capstone” program, a two-year, research-based course that gives students a special designation on their high school diploma.
The variety of course offerings helped Freedom snag a record number of applications from students outside their attendance zone and should help students become “more motivated to want to be here,” Smith said. A daily homeroom period would just take up time, he said.
“Every school has a different culture and needs,” Smith said. “There are only so many hours each day and students can only fill their schedules so much.”
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Middleton High turned to another alternative.
Middleton is the only high school in the district where all students are on an alternate day schedule, in which students take four, 95 minute courses on “A days” and four different courses on “B days.” The schedule allows students to take more classes than they would in a traditional school day with seven class periods, said Principal Kim Moore.
The schedule, adopted about six years ago, doesn’t allow for a daily homeroom period. Instead, students have a unique advisory period on Mondays, Moore said. During the 45-minute span, students do guidance activities such as graduation checks, hear presentations on safety and bullying, and work on writing assignments to strengthen skills.
“The kids definitely aren’t just sitting around during that period,” Moore said. “Cutting out homeroom also cuts down on the time students are changing classes in the hallways, where they have opportunities to get off track.”
At Plant High, on the other hand, daily homeroom classes are a linchpin for students, said Principal Robert Nelson.
Plant students are assigned a homeroom class their freshmen year and stay with the same teacher and students throughout their entire high school experience, a practice also adopted at Robinson. The daily homeroom runs for 10 minutes after students’ first period class, but has become a time-honored tradition at Plant that students and faculty embrace, Nelson said.
“They have that familiarity, and the teacher becomes like a mentor,” he said. “I shake their hands as they walk across the stage, but it’s that mentor teacher that hands them their diploma on graduation night.”
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Students build relationships in homeroom and the period actually maximizes academic time by concentrating in one place such housekeeping duties as watching the informational morning show, taking attendance and dealing with individual student issues.
“It really helps us out because students don’t have to miss class time or come in late because they’re running to the guidance office to take care of administrative stuff,” Nelson said.
Strawberry Crest students also have daily homeroom; a necessity to synch the schedules for students in traditional academic classes and International Baccalaureate classes, said Principal David Brown.
I.B. students at Strawberry Crest have four, 90-minute classes each day, while traditional students have seven, 50-minute classes. If an I.B. student wants to take an electvie course, like this year’s new astronomy, creative writing and social media courses, they attend the regular 50-minute class at the beginning or end of the school day. When the class is over, the I.B. students stay in homeroom until the next 90-minute class period while the traditional students go to their next class. The schedule allows I.B. students to have two homeroom periods while traditional students have one.
The 20-minute homeroom is the information and communication period for I.B. students and helps students on both tracks stay connected, Brown said.
“You don’t really have a lot of buy-in for that class,” he said, “they don’t get a grade, they’re just sitting there for 10 minutes. But I also see the value in having that period for kids to get all the information they need. We’ve been fortunate not to have any issues with it.”
I.B. student Runyan said she’s glad to still have her homeroom period but she laments that traditional students may feel left out by losing this “relaxation time.” She has used the period for work that involves both groups of students, such as student government elections, distributing homecoming and prom tickets, and sharing information about upcoming events, clubs and community service opportunities.
Now, she said, it will be harder to interact with students on the traditional track at Robinson.
“I don’t think its necessarily fair I.B. students have homeroom every day and traditional students get it taken away,” Runyan said. “I think students see it as enjoyable for everyone to have time to take a break and catch up.”