There have already been three weeks of school here in Beverly, in a school-year unlike many others for many reasons. One huge reason is that there has been added to our schedule a short, unscheduled block of time four days a week. If you include the morning breaks on Wednesdays and Fridays, then really there is the same amount of free time a week as there is for a French or a Math class. This scheduled/unscheduled time might seem a little weird and difficult to approach. And it is, so many students are taking that time to do the only thing they know to do: homework.
The stated goal of Focus/Flex is for students to have time in there to relieve stress. Stress has always been seen as a major problem of Waring. In that way Focus/Flex is undoubtedly successful. How could it not be? Waring had always had a jam-packed schedule, with the only down time being break and lunch. Even the addition of 45 minutes in a day just to simply not have a class would ease stress. What Waring has discovered in making this mandatory stress-relieving time, is that students relieve stress mostly by doing homework. Have we come to grips with that reality?
Certainly not in our external relations, because on September 27th the Beverly Patch published an article titled “Waring School Empowers Students with Innovative New Schedule”:
The Focus/Flex program empowers students and faculty to be responsible for their own learning, to seek out co-creators, and to explore the depths of their deepest curiosities. During Focus/Flex, students and teachers use unscheduled time to enhance their own intense passions and interests in a way that is unencumbered and untouched by the limits of mainstream education. Students can be seen practicing instruments, challenging the headmaster to a game of chess, seeking out peers to create art, or working on their own STEM projects.
In this message to the public, there is no mention of stress-relieving or homework. So is this a goal (or a kind of heroic boast?) that we in fact become all-of-the-above in time? Already we are seeing acapella groups, small jam sessions, and various other start-up organizations, but does the reality of Focus/Flex fit with the Beverly Patch’s description of it.
My brother, class of 2015 asked me why I haven’t started a computer science club during the Focus/Flex time, knowing how useful and necessary it is to have been in one going into college. Do I want to? Yes. Do I really want to? No not really. The truth is, it is far too easy and rewarding to do homework.
When I asked Graham what could potentially make Focus/Flex unsuccessful, he said that that question was asked with an assumption. The assumption is that free, open time even could be unsuccessful. Inherently, Focus/Flex could be seen as good and successful if you look at it with that mindset. Free time as thing in itself is good and couldn’t go wrong. So with that in mind, the only thing that could potentially go wrong is if we make our scheduled unscheduled time scheduled again, if we find our Focus/Flex periods seeming not free enough. Already some students are having all their Focus/Flex periods filled up with commitments like meeting with teachers. An anonymous faculty member stated that Waring teachers need to “practice letting go of their tendency to micromanage, to control, to fret about the choices students might make, and let them actually make choices.” Jim Watras commented that if we try too hard to control what Focus/Flex is, we might never find out what it could become.
We’ll just have to see where our Focus/Flex journey takes us, but we should constantly question why we do what we do in the time given. Maybe time alone will lead us in the right direction, and the natural direction we choose is the right one.