Thomas Weese | email@example.com | August 27, 2018
Juniors and seniors remember it. Freshmen and sophomores have heard about it. Design Tech High School’s structure was at perhaps its most experimental with it in place, from 2014 to June 2016. It, of course, is none other than the infamous Friday FIT, a dedicated block from 1-3:35 PM each Friday designed to give students the time to get back on pace in their classes. And if you already were on pace? Then, my friend, your Friday ended at 12:30PM. Friday FIT is arguably the most memorable “alternative” school policy d.tech has ever had, and in my opinion, the best idea d.tech has ever had, period.
d.tech provides a heavy emphasis on self-direction and extreme personalization. Students have the freedom to move at a pace that works for them, whether that means more time or less. The issue this causes for instructors, however, is that some students may not complete all the necessary work required by the end of the semester. Without that work in, they won’t be able to pass the class, and eventually may not even be able to graduate. The solution? Dedicate more time for those students who need it, and reward the students who keep up with the class.
In theory, the first three days of each school week are dedicated to instruction, with the last two days being enrichment. While instruction is the usual class schedule, enrichment has, for a long time now, been the job of lab days. While lab days have kept the same name, much of their original purpose is now missing. More on that later.
Back when this schedule existed, on the last day of instruction (Wednesday), weekly work for all classes would be due at the end of the school day. That afternoon, during or after the weekly staff meeting, students and their parents would receive an email. If they had met the Wednesday deadline, they would be dismissed at 12:30 p.m. on Friday. If they had work they were behind on, and therefore missed the Wednesday deadline, they were now “off pace” and would be required to stay until 3:30 p.m. on Friday. Missing deadlines would roll over each week, and students had to be entirely caught up in order to be dismissed early. The idea is to reward students for doing their work, not necessarily to punish those who were behind.
In practice, it seems that Friday FIT and the Wednesday deadline actually worked. When recalling how the deadline affected her staying on pace, senior Courtney Sullivan-Wu says, “The Wednesday deadline was a good mid-week wake-up call, so if you’re falling behind, you and your parents get notified weekly to remind you that you’re off pace. Now, I feel like I’m always falling behind on little assignments such as CCs, and my priorities get shifted to bigger, more significant projects that take up most of my time. I feel like that happened less when teachers were making sure we’d be getting those smaller assignments in on time.” It seems, for some students, that the deadline led to a legitimate increase in productivity.
And when you were on pace? Senior Tyler Sanderville recalls how it felt to receive the email with good news: “I felt a great sense of relief and accomplishment. Not only because I would get that tasty early dismissal, but because I was essentially free for all my lab periods to either get a head start on work for next week or to work on a passion project/my project from d.lab.” Students loved Friday FIT, and it did legitimately feel like a reward for many.
Why It Left
When students returned from summer for the 2016-2017 school year, they found that something not returning was their beloved Friday FIT.
It seemed, unsurprisingly, that many students saw little value in attending school on Fridays, as they would be dismissed less than three hours after arriving. To add to this, many students that were regularly referred for Friday FIT resented the policy, and perhaps the students who needed extra time the most were the students least likely to come to school on Fridays.
This whole system also relied on teachers inputting updated grades by the Wednesday deadline as well. Recent graduate Nick Dal Porto says, “I was pretty pissed off whenever I was referred, which was a lot. It made me angry because usually it was stupid things like teachers not updating grades, etc. It was frustrating… Most of the time at d.tech grades don’t get put in on time, so the short turnaround made the Friday FIT referral often inaccurate of where I actually was in my classes.” This meant that, even if you actually were on pace, a referral meant a loss of your Friday early release.
Dips in attendance, high maintenance for the teachers, and the inability to register the FIT time as school instructional minutes meant that it had to go. All this makes total sense. But does that just mean we should toss the idea and assume it could never work? Not at all.
The Impact Left and the Future Potential
In the traditional instruction/enrichment model, Friday FIT served as the time for students to catch up on late work. This was not the role of lab days. Lab days could allow for deep dives into topics covered earlier in the week. Teachers could enrich the curriculum for those students who were interested. Now, since labs are less frequent, shorter, and isolated, they serve the job Friday FIT had, giving students time to catch up on their work.
To make the experience even more personalized, d.tech implemented “Studio Time,” a way for students to more effectively use their school time if they were ahead in a class. After a nearly two-year hiatus (2016-present), Studio Time is making a comeback. While not nearly as radical as Friday FIT, it’s a move in the right direction.
Friday FIT was the best idea d.tech ever had, and while it had its logistical challenges, it worked. Now that we’re fully enrolled, we’re in our permanent location, and we have a staff member dedicated to attendance, I think it’s the perfect time to give Friday FIT a second shot.