Club meeting limits, responsive scheduling, other Academic Lab updates

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Alexandra DeLuca

Juniors Wilson Gao and Alan Song and freshmen William Mayer and Prateek Nemmali play a timed match at chess practice during Academic Lab (Ac Lab). Gao appreciated Ac Lab practices as they provided a break from the rest of the school day. “It’s just talking with people and playing well, just playing chess. People don’t always know how to play chess, it can be a super foreign game. The interactions we have with people and how we can just play chess is fun,” Gao said.

After countless double scheduled club meetings and a lack of student attendance accountability during the first semester, Ac Lab schedule will now take place through Infinite Campus. Club meetings will be restricted to once per month.

Students used to fill out a Google Form with their Ac Lab selection, but teachers found this system difficult to manage.

“The Ac Lab card lacked a student accountability piece. When students did not report to the proper modular selections, teachers had to take attendance by paper and then email their Ac Lab home teacher in addition to the grade level principal to follow-up on the whereabouts of students. This was a tedious process,” junior principal and Ac Lab coordinator Brionne Smith said. “Additionally, we had to review a different platform, Tableau, in order to seek student selections. None of the programs we were using “spoke” to one another.”

Students now will select their classes through Infinite Campus using the Responsive Scheduling tool. Sophomore principal Mario Pupillo oversaw the Responsive Scheduling aspect of Ac Lab.

“Every other class that you go to, you’re scheduled into that class. There’s a kind of expectation that that is where you are. It helps if we need to find you, if a parent calls or there’s an emergency we know exactly where you are at any given moment in the day. You can look at your own schedule and see it right there in one spot. [Responsive scheduling] is just the logistical piece of making that happen for Ac Lab as well,” Pupillo said.

The influx of students across the district attempting to log into Infinite Campus recently caused the site to become unresponsive. While this lag did not affect the attendance process, administrators ask students to make their selections the night before or earlier during the day to avoid overloading the system again.

I don’t believe we’ll ever get to a place where everyone is 100% happy, but we’re always trying to alter and share things for improvement. I don’t want students to ever think that this is exactly what Ac Lab is. Things can always improve and get better.”

— Junior principal Brionne Smith

“Like everything else, this is a conversation that will be furthered because this is the first time we’re doing Ac Lab at all. If we make changes, we need to then look at those over some time period and say, ‘Hey, is this working? Is this meeting the needs of students?’” Pupillo said. “If something’s not been looked at to adjust it, like everything else, there’ll still be open conversation, and adjustments [will] still [be] made.”

Smith consulted committees of teachers before making another change in Ac Lab policies: limiting club meetings to once per month.

“A lot of students rely on that time so that they’re able to go and get the help that they need. [Among both] teachers and students, it was a common opinion that meetings with clubs were too often,” Smith said. “So, we worked to make it a stipulation that clubs would only meet once a month. We’re trying to figure out the balance because the same positives can be received as negatives in some instances.”

Smith hopes this might help foster student-teacher relationships and create a sense of community.

“What I love about [Ac Lab] is that students are able to have a teacher that they see more regularly. That is kind of lost when you transition to a high school. I’m an old middle school teacher, and even though I didn’t see [my homeroom] for long periods, I was able to form strong relationships with them and hold them accountable and [have] a true relationship,” junior principal and Ac Lab coordinator Brionne Smith said. “Our hope is that you would stay in the Ac Lab home for the whole four years, just so that you have that place that you feel like you belong, and you have that relationship with other classmates and with your Ac Lab teacher.”

While limiting club meetings can foster an Ac Lab community, some students believe it can negatively impact club communities. Due to the bus driver shortage, there is no activity transportation after school, so clubs that used to meet after school met during Ac Lab. However, clubs such as Chess Club do not have time to meet more than once a month.

“For the competitive side of Chess Club, we use Ac Lab to train ourselves and play fierce games. At group meetings, we review games to prepare for matches against other teams. We go through what we were thinking or what we could have done better as we play each game,” Chess Club President and junior Wilson Gao said. “All of these things take time, which we won’t have before school or at meetings once a month. After school, not many people show up because now transportation is an issue.”

Chess Club has a competitive side that requires more than the time available before school and once a month during Ac Lab for practice.

“This [will] hamper our ability to function as a competitive team because we’re in the middle of chess season [right now]. Limiting our meetings will make it harder to coordinate, practice and prepare for our matches. Even besides the competitive standpoint, I enjoy chess club. It’s a nice way to relax,” Gao said.

Administrators anticipate Ac Lab to continue to evolve over the next few years as the school learns from experience. 

“We can’t please everyone. In an ideal world, that would happen, but we can’t. We just think about the whole picture. We always want to keep students at the center. I don’t believe we’ll ever get to a place where everyone is 100% happy, but we’re always trying to alter and share things for improvement. I don’t want students to ever think that this is exactly what Ac Lab is. Things can always improve and get better,” Smith said.

In the meantime, both Smith and Pupillo encourage students to reach out to them with questions or concerns.

“I’m a very approachable person, at least I try to make myself seem approachable, and I don’t take things personally. You can just send me an email, and I’m happy to respond and listen to you. I will document what you have to say and bring it to the Ac Lab Committee,” Smith said. “It’s still new. It’s still a work in progress. This is not an end all be all, [and] we’re always trying to improve. [So], tell us what works [and] what doesn’t work because it’s something I’m constantly trying to revamp and revise in the best interest of students. My biggest hope is for everyone to feel like it’s a place that they belong, that they find a purpose in Academic Lab.”