Kids in the hall

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Are mandatory study halls worth the time?

As the Oregon educational system battles against a harsh economic decline, the high schools of Portland are utilizing various money-saving methods to stay afloat. With staff cutbacks and increasingly overcrowded classrooms, some schools have chosen to implement study halls as a way to ease financial pressures. Are the students in Portland high schools benefiting from, or struggling under, these curriculum changes?

Susannah Beckett / Vanguard Staff

Ideally, study halls are designed as time slots where students can catch up on schoolwork, meet with their teachers and collaborate with other students on group projects. Students with congested personal schedules or who involve themselves in multiple extracurricular activities can use this time to complete their load of work while at school instead of making time at home.

Unfortunately, some of the study hall situations make student productivity difficult. At Grant High School it is mandatory for students to enroll in only seven classes. The eighth period of their school day is reserved for a mass study session comprised of approximately 130 students gathered in the school cafeteria while being supervised by a campus security guard. Similar study halls are set up at Benson High, where around 200 students are made to study in the same area. Such an arrangement may not seem half bad if you’re in high school.

However, there is little supervision on whether or not work is actually being done. It is probably nice to have a mandatory break during school, but it’s questionable if these study halls are worthwhile.

Some students who truly wish to use the time to complete work complain that the noise levels are not constructive and make it challenging to focus. Grant Principal Vivian Orlen did not comment on the subject.

Other high schools are dividing their students’ time differently.

“We do not and never have had study halls,” Principal Jeff Gilbert of Reynolds High School said. “I see them as an ineffective use of both student and staff time.”

After all, we go through the educational system to gain more knowledge in a slew of subjects, not to be babysat while studying.

“If you get enough kids, or even adults for that matter, together in one room, we will do what humans do best: socialize,” Gilbert said.

He makes a valid point; there is ample time during lunch, after school hours and on the weekends for high school students to relax and socialize. Many high schoolers may not realize or appreciate that their time in school should revolve entirely around learning.

“Idle time is useless. We give our students sufficient opportunities to meet with our staff without assigning or forcing a specific time where it should be done,” Gilbert said.

Study hall practices are perhaps not appropriately preparing students for the demands of higher education. Making time to complete necessary work is a vital part of learning how to delegate our work time effectively.
Assistant Principal Cindy Schubert of Lake Oswego High disagrees with such remarks.

“We see it as a very valuable use of their time. Seven classes amounts [to a] lot of work for our students to complete, and Lake Oswego has always seen positive results from having study halls,” Schubert said.
Such time is not seen as extraneous, but rather as a means of helping students deal with their rigorous schedules.

“Of course, we also give our students the choice to enroll in an eighth class and opt out of taking a study hall if they feel that suits their schedule better,” Schubert said.

The key to a successful student body is providing its students with options. Not every method will benefit each student equally. By giving them the ability to choose for themselves, schools can place more responsibility in the hands of their students and strengthen their personal development. High school is meant to prepare students for the workload that they will face in their educational and occupational futures. Even with financial setbacks, Portland high schools need to keep in mind that their sole purpose is to educate.

There are other cutbacks that should be made before cutting into actual learning time. It’s time that some Portland high schools reevaluate their current structure to make school days more profitable for their students.

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