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The quarter system encourages curiosity and provides students opportunities to narrow their focus and delve deeper into fewer subjects. Having a reduced number of classes at once has helped me put more focus into each class, and I’ve found myself really caring about the content and asking more questions. It also lowers the stress that comes with remembering and completing seven classes worth of homework and tests, instead of just four. We get a long weekend at the end of every quarter, which means three true breaks, breaks where we don’t have to worry about homework or finals right afterward— cough cough, spring break, cough cough. 

Faculty of higher education systems are in favor of the quarter system as well; the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) proposed the idea of reverting back to a semester system before its faculty twice, and both times the movement was voted down, the second time by about a 60% margin.

The opposition may attribute this to the university’s emphasis on research and claim it takes away from a student’s learning experience, but this is unfounded. The quarter system keeps coursework moving at a faster pace; one of UCLA’s priorities includes fostering the “palpable sense of momentum” that fosters a “can-do spirit”, the same constant drive I’ve been feeling all quarter.

Keeping up with the speed is by no means a walk in the park— sometimes it really feels like a full on sprint— but it provides opportunities to rise to the occasion, makes it easier to track your personal progress and creates a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself. This momentum helps build a life-long attitude of always seeking to do more: pursue knowledge, give back to the community, make discoveries that further society.

An increased pace always raises questions regarding burnout and mental health of students at schools operating on the quarter system. If you take a look at the Harvard Business Review’s causes of burnout, however, you’ll see that five out of the six mentioned categories result more from our educational priorities rather than true content overload. 

Placing emphasis on final grades over true learning can lead to students (1) feeling like our efforts are not valued, like we have (2) no control over their learning and situation. This can (3) strain our relationships with our community, and leave us (4) hyper fixated on the reward— or consequence— that is our final grade; and, when we don’t feel like we match up with those around us, (5) we feel like outsiders. That’s five causes of burnout caused by a problem larger than the quarter system.

The quarter system gives us a blank slate to be able to shift the focus from product-driven learning to student-driven learning; the increased class period and lower breadth of work at any given time (1) encourages more effort and curiosity into the subjects at hand. This allows for students to (2) play an active role in their own education, (3) strengthening their relationships with teachers and fellow students, (4) lowering fixation on reward and (5) fostering a sense of belonging.

The sixth cause of burnout, increased workload, can be addressed through this shift in academic priority as well. Yes, shorter terms result in an increase in workload; however, when students are given the room to be curious and active learners, workload feels less like a chore and more like an opportunity.

This greater emphasis on learning to satiate curiosity can be achieved through the quarter system in two concrete ways: increasing both reliance on formative assessment and responsibility on students for their own learning. 

Due to the shortened course duration, teachers simply do not have the time to grade and provide feedback on as many summative assessments. This provides an opportunity to shift focus away from product-oriented learning and place more value on class time and formative assessment.

We’ve all wondered how much RogerHub could make during finals season if they placed advertisements on their website; they must get a lot of hits from the number of times we try calculations again and again, hoping to see a different number each time. Instead of wasting time on this, we could be researching topics to discover in self-designed labs or student-driven seminars. We could, as an educational system and a society, begin to value learning for learning itself so the next generation of students think critically about what they want to explore and how they can get there.

To give students a chance at all these benefits, we must revise high school education standards to better support a true quarter system. The collegiate quarter system is essentially a glorified trimester system with three quarters, each approximately 10 to 12 weeks long from Sept. to June, and the fourth quarter during the summer term. Colleges take advantage of this to offer a greater diversity of classes. Because each “year-long” credit only lasts 10 to 12 weeks, students can take three sets of classes, instead of two. These are all stipulations high school education standards must adhere to in order to adopt the quarter system.

High school courses tend to be cookie cutter and build on the knowledge you learn in previous classes and terms. Adopting the quarter system might cut a little information out of high school biology, but it offers a chance to diversify the high school curriculum. In our increasingly globalized world, it is valuable to make Human Geography a required course, even if it takes away from the depth of American history. The changes necessary to make it feasible must start with the state-mandated curriculum. 

A final plea for an increase in the diversity of course offerings: as more college-level courses leak into high schoolers’ course loads, we need to remember that even colleges on the semester system don’t subject their students to seven courses at a time. Updating course requirements to reflect the current trends in society means more courses to take, and we prefer three per quarter over seven year-round.

The quarter system, if implemented properly, could bring a lot of benefit to students. It might ultimately fall victim to a “we’ve always done it this way” mentality, however, change does not happen without action, and the education system is long overdue. I am beyond grateful for the brief sampling of the quarter system I got to experience, and I hope high school students in the future get to experience it as well.

No matter how many comments you filter out, it is still impossible to separate the effects of virtual learning and COVID-19 from the impacts of the quarter system; together, these were two huge adjustments to education in an already tumultuous year. For the sake of future students, we need to give the quarter system a fair chance.

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