The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High

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The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High

Pathfinder

The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High

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Post-break panic

For+the+past+three+years%2C+Parkway+has+administered+high+school+finals+after+winter+break%2C+a+practice+that+proves+to+be+detrimental+to+the+success+as+well+as+the+mental+health+of+students.+With+finals+after+break+appearing+to+do+more+harm+than+good%2C+the+question+of+what+changes+can+be+made+arises+time+and+time+again.+%E2%80%9CThe+pressure+for+finals+is+difficult%2C+and+to+have+that+%5Bpressure+for%5D+a+few+weeks+because+youre+on+%5Ba%5D+break+can+make+you+generally+sad.+Its+a+bummer+in+general.+I+wish+%5Bfinals%5D+were+before+break%2C+so+we+%5Bcould%5D+have+a+break+to+sleep%2C+celebrate+and+not+study.+Everyone+Ive+talked+to+about+it+is+like+yeah%2C+finals+sucks%2C+and+I+wish+that+wasnt+a+thing%2C%E2%80%9D+junior+Meadow+Kostial+said.+
Zoya Hasan
For the past three years, Parkway has administered high school finals after winter break, a practice that proves to be detrimental to the success as well as the mental health of students. With finals after break appearing to do more harm than good, the question of what changes can be made arises time and time again. “The pressure for finals is difficult, and to have that [pressure for] a few weeks because you’re on [a] break can make you generally sad. It’s a bummer in general. I wish [finals] were before break, so we [could] have a break to sleep, celebrate and not study. Everyone I’ve talked to about it is like ‘yeah, finals sucks,’ and I wish that wasn’t a thing,” junior Meadow Kostial said.

The problem

Beginning in the 2020-21 school year, a new schedule — pushing back the academic year and shifting finals to after winter break — was adopted district-wide. From students to teachers, the subsequent ‘new status quo’ produced detrimental effects on the school, where an overwhelming majority continue to advocate for change.

As a part of MO House Bill 161 2019, state schools such as Parkway were required to push the start of the year back four days. The bill was passed in hopes of increasing tourism in Missouri to surge revenue for businesses in the summer, retaining employed students for another work week as well as enticing families to spend more time, thus more money, at home in Missouri. 

“The superintendents’ organization and other educational groups really believe that Parkway and all districts should set their own calendar. I think legislators who want to get into the weeds of public education ought to stay away from it, they should allow us to make those decisions locally.”

— Superintendent Keith Marty

However, this law takes away individual administrations’ ability to provide their community with a more representative schedule. This change raises the question that’s been culminating in the back of parents, educators and students’ minds: what other values will be prioritized above a decent education?

For those wondering how tourism managed to seem more important to the state, look no further than local lobbyists. Effectively influencing legislative decisions requires a significant amount of money, something that business owners in places like Branson, Missouri have more to spare than those advocating for public education.

“I think the legislation was not in the best interests of local communities and their local control. Whether it’s funding, calendar or even social issues, I think the legislature has a responsibility to support public education and do whatever they can, but they don’t need to get into the business of local control,” Parkway superintendent Keith Marty said. 

The state government isn’t the sole proprietor of this issue; the district bears responsibility as well for their choice of action. While the original intent was to maintain an ‘academic calendar’ that benefits students and teachers following, it hasn’t played out that way.

 

The state government isn’t the sole proprietor of this issue; the district bears responsibility as well for their choice of action. While the original intent was to maintain an ‘academic calendar’ that benefits students and teachers following, it hasn’t played out that way.

“I want to emphasize what’s good for kids. One of the things we pushed was having even semesters, and should we really cram in a first semester [that] has basically no breaks — is that in the best interests of teachers and students?” Marty said. 

This schedule is not convenient for students or educators; in fact, it hurts those who teach semester-long courses more. While the semesters appear to be even on paper, due to snow days, AP testing and graduation, the second semester tends to be shorter. This means that teachers have to adjust to teaching the same course in an expanded form for the first portion of the year and a condensed version for the shorter second semester.

“As somebody who teaches electives, the end of the semester marks the start of a new set of classes. So, to have that chunk of time to reflect on the [previous] semester and think about what you want to change and then come back and start fresh was really helpful,” English teacher Cara Borgsmiller said.

At this point, a glaringly obvious lack of action prompts the ‘Well, why haven’t we changed the schedule yet?’ The answer is quite simple: Parkway implemented its new calendar in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that the true flaws with the system weren’t apparent for the first two years of its use, but the district is becoming increasingly aware of them now.

“Because of the pandemic, as we got into [the new schedule], we didn’t have a normal year for a while,” Marty said. “It’s a more of an issue [now], and we have a calendar committee made up of administrators, principals, teachers and PTO who are working and trying to come up with a calendar [to fix it].”

The effects

Despite only applying to high schools, the effects are widespread across the student body. Winter break is the longest break throughout the school year, and it is now plagued by the overhanging of finals. Studies take away time from what a break should be used for, relaxing.

“Primarily for the students, if we really want them to use the break to rejuvenate, to focus on mental health [and] to be with their family, it’s really hard to do when [they’re] focusing on studying for finals over that time period,” Borgsmiller said. “For teachers, doing finals beforehand gives [a] nice break between the two semesters.”

Out of 138 students and teachers surveyed at Parkway West, 123 people expressed a preference of finals week occurring before Winter Break, for approximately 89% of total consensus. No educator asked had a net proclivity towards the current calendar. “I think having finals before break is better so that students can take a true break from school. This is much more beneficial for their mental health than a break where they might have to study,” Spanish teacher Sonya McGowin said. (Triya Gudipati)

While winter break is around 10 days long, there is a sense of impending doom over the hiatus. Even over the days students should be using for rest and enjoyment, they are busy fretting over their grades. 

“[Finals] are so much more stressful because it’s always on your mind during break, and a break is supposed to be no schoolwork, no nothing, to be able to have a breather,” sophomore Medina Nanak said.

Time that isn’t spent studying is still tainted by thoughts of finals. Stress from the knowledge of upcoming exams after the break gives students a feeling of guilt when they are trying to indulge in other hobbies.

“Finals are just hanging over my head, and I think ‘Oh, I could be studying right now. I could be doing something productive for my classes and get a good grade’,” Nanak said. “Having finals after break doesn’t [benefit students] because you have to keep on studying, and even if you’re not,  you’re spending time worrying about it.”

Having a longer break gives students plenty of free time, but it also applies more pressure to not forget any learning over the period. This distress decays mental health — the opposite of what winter break should be doing.

“I’m often forgetting a lot of material because I have more information and more material in my head before break rather than after break,” Nanak said. “My mental health deteriorates a little bit because [finals is] always just there. There’s nothing positive about it, and it’s a pretty stressful time.”

The policy doesn’t only take a toll on students, it deeply affects teachers, too. As administrators of learning, teachers find it more difficult to help students succeed on their exams when they’re given after the two-week break. 

“I have to build in a bunch of review days after the break,” history teacher Jim Hermann said. “I feel like the days after the break as we wait for exams are completely wasted in that regard. Rather than starting the process of building up a second-semester rapport with students, I felt I had to review the whole [first] semester again.”

The solution

If students had ended the semester before their winter break, students would have seen more success in finals as content would still be fresh in their heads. There is a much easier way to fix this scheduling issue than one might realize, and it may happen sooner than one might think.

“We’re in the midst of working on the 2025-26 calendar, and it gives us the potential to do final exams [before break]. There will be uneven semesters, but we’re hearing from educators that they’d like to have a longer second semester” Marty said. “We want our students to not have the pressures of finals [over break], so we continually have this discussion.”

The only real effect of reverting to finals before break would be losing the eight instances that we get out of school two hours early and potentially requiring that Professional Development Days be scheduled for the end of summer break — something that some high school students and faculty members alike would gladly sacrifice.

I know that the high school teachers consistently say that we would give up all of our breaks if it meant finals before break.”

— English teacher Cara Borgsmiller

Though it may receive pushback from those who enjoy these days, making early dismissal days into full school days would also help parents and guardians who need to arrange special accommodations for their students on those days as well, furthering the net benefit of this scheduling model.

The detrimental effects of finals being after breaks on students negatively impact their mental health and are an inconvenience for both high school teachers and students alike. This issue can be easily remedied in the future by sacrificing a theoretical 50/50 split of semesters and eliminating Early Release days.

“At the end of the day, my job is to make sure we have an academic calendar. It’s about what’s good for our kids and learning and good for teachers, so they can do their job,” Marty said.

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About the Contributors
Zoya Hasan, Staff Writer
Pronouns: she/her Grade: 10 Years on staff: 2 What is your favorite piece of literature? I don't have one. Who is your hero? My brother because he has the positive mentality I hope to have, too. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? Katie's Pizza Pasta's Lemon Paccere (or something like that; it's absolutely heavenly).
Keira Lang, Staff Writer
Pronouns: she/her Grade: 10 Years on staff: 2 What is your favorite piece of literature? "The Cruel Prince" by Holly Black, "Heartless" by Marissa Meyer and "Harry Potter." Who is your hero? Me, myself and I. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? Fried Rice.
Triya Gudipati, News Editor/Deadline Tracker
Pronouns: she/her Grade: 11 Years on staff: 3 What is your favorite piece of literature? "The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue" Who is your hero? Taylor Swift (JK, probably AOC). If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? Krispy Kreme Donuts.
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  • J

    Juliana RodgersJan 24, 2024 at 8:44 am

    So glad this is issue finally getting the administrative recognition it deserves. Amazing piece!

    Reply
  • S

    Serena LiuJan 9, 2024 at 9:57 pm

    definitely feeling the impending doom

    Reply
  • A

    Allyson LaneJan 8, 2024 at 8:32 am

    Parkway should look at/speak to Lindbergh & Kirkwood. Both districts have 1st semester finals before Winter Break.

    Reply
  • K

    Kat BriggsJan 7, 2024 at 8:52 pm

    Awesome job on this piece, Keira, Zoya, and Triya. From another teacher’s perspective, I hope in the future we can have finals before winter break.

    Reply