We Can Still Fix Activity Periods

On a chilly Friday afternoon in mid-October, I sat down for an interview with Upper School Assistant Director Hans de Grys. In our short thirty minutes together, we talked about the new schedule, students’ club difficulties, and the purpose of advisory. When asked about activity period meeting conflicts on Thursday, de Grys admitted that the current schedule is imperfect, but that “for any schedule, there are trade-offs.” 

Of course, choosing priorities and letting things go is a fact of high school. Students will never be able to attend every club or event they choose, no matter how many activity periods are supplied by the administration. Meanwhile, the makers of the schedule are balancing the demands of clubs, advisories, teachers, and assembly leaders, who are all vying for more time in an already-packed school day.

Still, one can’t ignore students’ calls for more productive use of activity periods throughout the week. Many have complained about Wednesday assemblies, which can be exciting but are not always the best use of time. Poll respondents longed for less frequent all-school meetings and a potential switch to the Monday or Friday slot, asserting that “we could do without some of these assemblies.”

This perception has been fueled by a series of missteps on the administration’s part, most notably with class meetings. At the beginning of the school year, sophomores were forced to stay silent and line up repeatedly in Red Square (by birthday, last name, and favorite color) when they would have rather socialized with friends. More recent presentations on service learning and leadership for various grades were helpful, but could have been emailed for students’ future reference. Yet perhaps we shouldn’t judge how the year will go off of the first few assemblies; several distinguished speakers are lined up for November and beyond, whose talks will hopefully prove more worthwhile than what students have experienced so far.

The issue of assemblies is invariably tied up with advisory, which currently holds an uncontested time slot on Mondays and Fridays. Over the years, advisory’s scope has expanded from a morning check-in to a more robust space for discussion and support. De Grys compares its role to that of SALT groups: “At Lakeside, we have this value that we can learn from people who are different from us. I think there’s real value in having affinity groups, to have people who understand what you’re going through in a way that maybe your peers and advisory don’t understand, but… having both is really important.” Stated objectives, however, are different from reality. One student noted that advisory rarely has meaningful dialogue around identity, often keeping to the same basic questions about weekend plans. Learning Resources Coordinator Jeff Bonar recently introduced a suggested curriculum for advisories to go over week by week. Yet if the administration truly wants the same meaningful conversation to happen in advisory as in SALT groups, it shouldn’t expect that twenty minutes twice a week is enough.

For any schedule, there are trade-offs.

This opens the door to potential solutions involving one long advisory period as opposed to two disconnected ones. A quarter of poll respondents advocated for combining Monday and Friday meetings, reasoning that a single get-together would provide more club opportunities and remove the “pressure of choosing which clubs to go to on certain days.” If assemblies were moved to Friday, meanwhile, they could share an activity period with advisory—think a long assembly in one week, a long advisory in another, or a period split between the two. While the latter proposal might sacrifice some advisory time, it could also reduce the need to hold all-school meetings every week. Both arrangements would allow the necessary two days a week for clubs, disregarding the Tuesday slot taken up by Tatler, Numidian, and Assembly Committee.

Demand for change stems from students’ scheduling frustrations, with a crush of clubs meeting during Thursday’s activity period. So what can we do now to help? Within the current system, club leaders can make changes to accommodate students in multiple groups. They may choose to utilize Monday or Friday time slots after advisory, or hold meetings every other week or just once a month. Low-commitment groups should consider gathering on Tuesday, while all clubs must think carefully about adding asynchronous time with Teams or Zoom.

Additionally, clubs with similar content should plan on working with each other. Two of Lakeside’s movie clubs recently merged, and a similar scenario could play out with the nearly ten clubs related to business and STEM. Though each surely has their own focus and target audience, it does not make sense to divide students with broader interest into smaller categories. These clubs should look to share resources, speakers, and space to bring the best possible experience to everyone.

In the coming months, student efforts like those outlined above will be necessary to accommodate club-hopping members. With a few adjustments in how assembly and advisory time is distributed, the advisory period conflict is entirely fixable. Yet big changes to the schedule, according to de Grys, are “a couple years out—our new head of school will probably want to be involved in that process.” For now, we’re stuck with class meetings.