Are you a good AcLab or a bad AcLab?


By Ethan Phipps

Sometimes giving a little freedom to students is a toss-up.  Will they make the right decisions?  Or will they just end up hurting themselves?  With the new 2014-2015 academic lab, it is up for the teachers and students to decide.

Academic lab, or homeroom, has been changed four times since the class of 2015’s freshmen year.  To the current freshmen, the AcLab this year is normal to them.  But to the seniors, it is just another change in scheduling.

In the school year of 2011-2012 academic lab was 10 minutes in between second and third period.  In 2012-2013, it was nonexistent.  And in 2013-2014 AcLab was extended to an 45 minutes everyday except for Wednesdays.

This year, AcLab is an hour and a half of do-whatever-you-want time.

“This one is definitely the best,” said Zoe Prekop ‘15.  “It’s so lenient and I can get so much more done.  I am usually pretty productive.  I use AcLab to work on art or class projects, to talk to my mentees, or to do homework.”

Others have never experienced Jones AcLab before.

“I really enjoy the freedom that we have,” said Genna Greblo ‘16.  “We aren’t limited to one space and we can go where we want.  This is my first year at Jones and this homeroom is much better than at my old school where we were bound to one room and we couldn’t leave.”

Students are able to meet with teachers to ask questions and catch up.

“I like it because we have so much time,” said Will Moran ‘17. “There are so many opportunities to see teachers.  It is really helpful to get a chunk of work done.”

Ben Mahon, a science teacher, helped with the creation of the new AcLab.

“I wanted to ensure that we used the longer school day in an efficient manner, said Mahon.  “Two years ago we had an hour and 44 minute classes which were very difficult on both students and teachers and I felt like some of that time could be better utilized. Some of the feedback we got last year was that students did not like being assigned a room. With the AcLab only being 40 minutes, students did not get a lot done. In addition many teachers did not like having some unblocked classes, so this provided an alternative.”

Some teachers would like small tweaks to AcLab, to ensure students are being productive.

“There was too much structure last year and not enough this year,” said French teacher Tory Waterman. “I think the best thing would be if it was a combination of how it was last year and how it is this year, meaning, the kids that aren’t doing poorly in classes can be free to do whatever they want to do, but if there is a student that is failing or needs to work on something the teacher should be able to pull them out.  Last year we could assign people to come to see us and if they didn’t they would get a detention.  Now I can tell people as much as I want that they are failing and need help and I call their parents, but the student still doesn’t come.”

Teachers have suggested monitoring the students as well.

“I would like to see students have to keep track of what they do and where they go during AcLab,” said Mahon. “I would like to see us hold students more accountable in general. The first thing any parent should ask when a student is struggling is ‘what are you doing in AcLab?’ So it might be nice to formalize that and have those discussions with students and parents and better encourage good use of AcLab.”

Students are able to decide how they spend their time and some parallels are drawn between teachers and students on issues within this new ac-lab.

“I would say for the most part the students aren’t doing anything,” said Waterman.  “Students don’t normally come in for help.  Teachers aren’t allowed to leave their ac-lab room so I am not sure how students are using their time. I would say a lot of students are playing hacky sack or eating and messing around.”

While some teachers say it’s half and half.

“I would say I think roughly 1/4 of students always use the time effectively, 1/4 are mostly productive, 1/4 are sometimes productive and 1/4 waste their time completely,” said Mahon. “I would love to have hard data on what students say and see if there are correlations with academic success.”

Some students want more structure as well.

“I normally do group work or hangout with my friends,” said Greblo.  “I get help from teachers too, especially for math and environmental science.  But for the most part I don’t think I use my time well during AcLab.  I think if ac-lab were a little more strict I would benefit from it more.  I like the freedom but at the same time I don’t have the pressure of someone saying ‘should you being doing this?’  It is up to your own discretion to decide how to spend your time.”

Students are beginning to understand the responsibility of having their own free time.

“If kids want to waste their time then that’s their problem,” said Moran.

On the other hand, AcLab gives busy students a chance to get work done.

“The pros of AcLab are that students have the ability to work on homework if they can’t at home or if they have a job or after school activities,”  said Prekop.  “It also helps for extra tutoring for students who can’t stay after school have access to tutoring  The cons of ac-lab are that, if you are in Elite, it is very hard to meet with mentees.  And for students who don’t feel that it’s necessary to work on homework results in a lot of free time.”

Teachers and students have expressed the difficulty and strict-nature of signing out at the end of AcLab.  Most students find the journey to be the biggest issue.

“If students don’t come in and sign out I mark them absent,” said Waterman.  “I have had some instances where they come in and they complain because they did not sign out.  But I tell them that that’s their problem and they should have some and signed out and I will mark them absent if they don’t.”

“The fact that we have five minutes to get to our sign-in is sometimes difficult,” said Greblo ‘16.  “Sometimes teachers aren’t available or are too busy with other students which is difficult too.”

Some students must bend the rules in order to sign out.

“I wish we could just sign in at any point,” said Prekop, “because sometimes I have to go over to the new building and then from the sixth floor of the new building I have to come to sign in in the counselor’s office in the old building.  Sometimes I have to sign people out because they can’t get back in time.”

Security has also been a concern for some, as students are not always monitored in a classroom.

“I don’t think there is enough monitoring in all the spaces,” said Waterman.  “The other day someone took the handle off of the boys bathroom door and boys were stuck in there.”

For others, security issues are not seen as an issue and are impressed with the way ac-lab has been going.

“I think we, as a school, handle this AcLab pretty well,”  said Prekop.  “People don’t sneak out or abuse the power.  We have been very responsible about it.  This is definitely the best AcLab I have had throughout my four years at Jones.”