It has been approximately two and a half months since the 2020-21 school year started, and Berkeley High School (BHS) students are now in the midst of their third term. Due to the shift to distance learning, BHS has introduced a brand new system to make this transition easier for students. Students normally slog through their six period days with grumbling and stress, but manage to cope. Yet, when deciding how distance learning could be accommodated for all students, a lot was up for debate. While the daily six periods work for in-person school, BHS administration decided that this was too much work and stress for students online. This led to the introduction of the now-familiar term system. This system means that students only take three of their classes for several weeks, and then switch to their next three classes once a quarter, for a total of two terms per quarter.
The term system sounds great, but the question remains; has it actually improved the online learning experience for students? Technically speaking, teachers must go at double the usual pace to cover all of the material that they would during a normal year, so it comes into question whether the term system actually decreases workload at all.
In theory, the term system cuts students’ workload in half. Students go from doing work for six different classes at once to juggling only three. Connor Wrubel, a senior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), said, “I still do have a lot of work because I’m taking difficult classes, but I think it has decreased my workload in a day.” Joaquin Matzan-Almantzan, a freshman in Universal Ninth Grade (U9), agreed, “I think [the workload] would be exponentially greater [with all six periods].”
However, not all agree that the workload is any better than it would have been in person, though not necessarily because of the term system. Eliza Grown, a senior in Academic Choice (AC), explained, “The workload feels really intense even though it wouldn’t be if we were in person because it’s just a lot harder to communicate and learn online.”
One significant issue with the term system is that there is a roll of dice on whether the workload is equal. Matzan-Almantzan alluded to this, saying, “Personally, I got lucky with it. For example, Advanced Math having the most work [got paired with] my other two classes not having much work.” If a student happens to be like Joaquin and has their hard classes paired with their easy classes, the system may significantly reduce their workload. However, it is possible all of a student’s hard classes land together in one term.
Advanced Placement (AP) classes need to go at double the speed in order to cover all of the material, so if someone landed with three APs in one term, that would be the equivalent of six AP workloads at once. Kai Teigen, a sophomore in BIHS, said that even just his one AP class, AP Chemistry, going at twice the speed was too much. “We need to be taught all of the material in half the time, so the class is actually moving much faster than it would be, so the workload is probably larger than it would be in person.”
Another issue that the term system has brought up is the time between terms, which can be a setback for students. After taking their first three classes for a month, students do not return to this class until a whole month has passed. This results in further loss of community and social activity in classes, as well as difficulties retaining material. In terms of social life, there are long gaps with no contact with teachers or classmates. “I definitely don’t remember kids in my classes as well when I come back for the second term,” said Matzan-Almantzan. This is especially harmful to freshmen such as Matzan-Almantzan, who have no preexisting community at BHS.
Wrubel explained the challenge of retaining information without a refresher for a month. “For something like Spanish or math, when you need to have those concepts fresh in your memory, the term system can cause some damage,” he said. More often than not, students forget information during the summer, and the term system takes this problem and injects it into the school year as well.
The term system has benefits and drawbacks. As Grown explained, it’s harder to learn and communicate online, but it doesn’t appear most of the problems with online learning have originated from the term system. It has succeeded in its central goal to decrease workload, though this has come at the expense of harder APs, decreased sense of community, and impaired learning. It poses new challenges, yet works in such an unprecedented situation. Hopefully, BHS can take the best aspects of the term system and learn how to incorporate them into in-person learning.