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Mount Carmel School pilots student-driven approach to course scheduling

(MCS) — As Mount Carmel School readies for the upcoming 2018-2019 school year, the school announced that it is piloting an innovative, student-driven approach to scheduling high school courses for upperclassmen.

Typically, when scheduling courses for a new year or a new semester, high schools and even colleges put together a schedule and then have students sign up for courses based on availability, seniority, and what students need to graduate. The course schedule thus dictates student choices. However, for the new year, the school is instead having student choices dictate the schedule.

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Before the 2017-2018 school year ended, Student Council president Dayna Macaranas, second from right, worked with her fellow council officers, from left to right, treasurer Rosa Castro, vice president Reica Ramirez, and moderator Quincy Chinen, to prepare incoming Juniors and Seniors for the new scheduling system.
As soon as students had submitted their preference forms for the new schedule, Mount Carmel School vice principal Barbara Merfalen started working on the course schedule for the upcoming 2018-2019 school year.  MCS photos

The initiative is spearheaded by vice principal Barbara Merfalen, who used her experience with college scheduling as a former academic dean to guide the new scheduling approach. Merfalen said, “We are providing a more deliberate system that allows students to make choices for required classes, giving them ownership and responsibility for their learning.”

The first part of the new scheduling system was developing an individualized academic plan, or IAP, similar to the individualized degree plan, or IDP, that many colleges use. Like an IDP, Mount Carmel’s IAP lists what courses students need to take in order to graduate. The courses reflect the school’s college-prep curriculum and are consistent with what many colleges expect students to take before enrolling in college.

Once the IAP was developed, school administrators pre-filled students’ IAPs with courses that students have already taken. Then homeroom teachers were trained to become academic advisors who could guide students through their respective IAPs. Guided by their homeroom teachers, students then worked through their respective IAPs to identify what courses they need and want to take in the upcoming school year. Based on those completed IAPs, students and homeroom teachers then completed preference forms that listed what courses students intended to take in the new year. The completed preference forms were, in turn, used to develop a schedule for the new year.

According to school president Galvin Deleon Guerrero, the new approach to scheduling is designed to empower students. As he put it, “Frankly, it would be easier to just tell students what to take, but that’s not preparing them for college or for life.” He added, “Despite how complicated it’s been to implement, the concept is rather simple: Let student choice drive the schedule, not the other way around.”

Incoming Student Council president Dayna Macaranas agrees. She said, “This new approach widens our options of what classes we will take and helps us see what students are really interested in taking.” In previous years, high-demand classes that filled up quickly or scheduling conflicts prevented many students from taking classes that they really wanted to take. However, according to Macaranas, “Now, students have a better chance of getting the classes they need and the classes they want.”

For vice principal Merfalen, giving students that choice is important. “When students are given an opportunity to choose, they take ownership of their learning.”