The Case for Keeping London Central on a Day 1/Day 2 System

Note: I understand this letter is long, but it is my testimony in hindsight as a graduate of what I learned in my four years at Central. I would greatly appreciate your time in reading this letter in its entirety and reflect upon the systematic change that would occur at Central otherwise. Thank you.

Before starting this letter, I asked myself what the key purpose of high school really is. Some believe it is to prepare students for university, to give them the competitive marks they need to get into a prestigious university or post-secondary program. But if this was really the underlying goal, then we have lost sight of what these four years are truly meant for. As I’m sure we can all attest to, the ages of 14 –18 lay the formation for the character that person will develop into. This is not, and will never be, defined by what marks were received, or how many hours were spent in a classroom. But learning an instrument, a new language, or how to manage your time, these are experiences that build the foundation of who you are. The one thing all these have in common is their time commitment. Skills that build your character are not learned in a classroom, even if the amount of time spent in them is numerically equivalent in a semestered or Day 1/Day 2 system. It is the time you spend on your own that builds your passions and ignites that spark. I hope that’s still what teaching is about. That being said, I’ll list 6 key reasons why the Day 1/Day 2 system is one of London Central’s greatest redeeming facets.

  1. The successful transition of Central’s graduates to post-secondary

There is no doubt that one of high school’s key goals is to prepare students for a successful transition and experience in post-secondary. As a graduating engineering student at the University of Toronto, I have a relatively typical trajectory for many Central graduates. Of course, I cannot speak for all programs, but having gone through 5 years of an engineering degree and having worked as a Teaching Assistant for First Years, I can attest to a few things. Central students are exceptionally well-versed for the transition to university. In my university friend groups and in the First Years I teach, the only students who handle it as well are those who come from an International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which is, coincidentally (or not), also a Day 1/Day 2 system.

In June of Grade 11, I had 6 final exams, 2 music exams and an external RCM Violin exam all within two weeks. Finishing the final exam of those two weeks is still one of the defining moments of my person-hood to this day. I would argue that was more difficult to manage than some exam seasons during my Engineering degree. Some experiences make you who you are, and the earlier students can realize “Hey, it’s no big deal, I’ve made it through worse” the better their future well-being will be. When you go from eight courses at once down to five or six courses in undergrad, while the vast majority of your peers are going from four courses up to five/six, your mental state is already more prepared. Much of university is a mental battle convincing yourself you can do it. Central’s graduates already know they can.

2. There’s an increase in students taking AP exams, which encourages a non-semestered system

As mentioned in point 1, the International Baccalaureate (IB) program produces some of the most competitive and successful students in the post-secondary environment. Students in this program are exposed to a rigorous, yet well-rounded curriculum which in general, involves taking 7 to 8 courses in a non-semestered schedule for the whole year. IB programs do this to ensure their students hae the subject fresh in their minds when they take the global exams in May (these are simultaneous for all IB students world-wide). I believe it is clear the Day 1/Day 2 system is an advantage over the semestered system in this case since students must be ready to write exams on all 7 subjects at once in May. While Central is not an IB school, it is undeniable that there has been a steady (if not exponential) increase in the number of students who are requesting to write AP exams. AP not only offers an advantage in many Canadian universities, but is becoming the norm here, and is already the norm in nearly all American universities. AP is the exact same structure as IB where exams are written by students on the same day world-wide in May. I have personal experience taking the AP Literature exam in Grade 12 with my Advanced English class and truly cannot fathom how I would have written it in May had I taken English from only September to January. Nor do I believe I would have been ready to write the exam had I only taken English from January to May.

3. The Music Program at Central will unquestionably suffer from a switch to a semestered system.

Many graduates from Central bring up Central Music. It’s hard to put into words how music at Central brightened my entire high school experience, if not, the rest of my life. I was heavily involved in music at central, and just yesterday I met up with the friends from the Music Council of our year. It’s been 5 years since we studied together, yet we still stay in close contact and laugh like 18 year olds when together. This is so rare, even more rare with the new generation of students and the distance technology now paradoxically creates for them. Of all my university friends, not a single one of them has maintained as strong a connection with their high school friends as the bond I have, and I highly, highly believe this is correlated with the people Central draws, in large part to Central’s Day 1/Day 2 system. Instead of having to meet new people in new classes twice a year, we would be together for the entire school year, you may not have close friends in every class you took, but at the very least you knew you would see them in class tomorrow. Music was the same way for nearly every student who took it. I cannot count the amount of times sentences like “man, there’s so much due, but at least we have band tomorrow” were uttered. I simply cannot imagine an entire semester where this is not a counter-balance in students’ lives. Please don’t let this experience be taken away.

Central Music is additionally a unique case in the TVDSB. I am sure many of the music teachers can provide more accurate numbers, but as a past Music Council Co-President, I can attest that over 50% of students at Central took music at some point. What’s arguably even more impressive is that of my graduating class of 150 or so students, 54 students took music in Grade 12, that’s over 30% of the entire graduating class, more than any other elective draws. Considering Grades 12s have the option to take up to two spares (choose to not take a course), seeing that students would rather take music than take a spare speaks to the quality Central Music has maintained.

In my graduating year, the Senior (Grades 11 + 12) band was composed of roughly 80 students, and the senior strings orchestra had roughly 50 players. Every year at Kiwanis (the annual music competition), it is with an enormous sense of pride that when we move on stage to perform, we require double the amount of chairs, not to mention the vast number of First place wins and trophies our ensembles take home. At what other point in one’s life can we ever experience this sense of teamwork, camaraderie and accomplishment again? Music participation rates like this are unheard of across any other school in the board and without the d1/d2 system, the incentive to join music will decrease dramatically and we will lose an irreplaceable environment in the London region.

4. All other schools in TVDSB are semestered, Central is the only option for those who learn better in the Day 1/Day 2 system.

I understand taking 8 courses at once is tough. As a student who never took a spare, and took 8 courses all year, for all four years, I can certainly agree — there were times I deplored it. But hindsight is 20/20, and looking back, I see it as the only way to truly hone the soft skills such as time/stress management, and personal motivation that so many educators and employers value in today’s job market. Several of my closest friends chose to leave Central in Grade 12 and transferred to semestered schools because they believed their marks would benefit if they did not need to balance so many courses at once. We are all now finished or finishing our university Bachelor’s degrees and can look back on this decision with more clarity. The ones who transferred have candidly told us that they ultimately regretted this decision, stating it wasn’t worth it for the marks (if there was any difference at all), and that the lack of balance between classes and time on their own to digest the material meant they had to adapt their way of learning. They stated that in a semestered system, since they basically only had half the time between lessons they would focus instead on memorizing and reciting, rather than truly understanding the mechanics of a concept. While for some, this might result in a higher mark by a percent or two, is it really a worthwhile change? If students truly find that they learn better in a semestered program, then they have well over 20 schools in the region to choose from. If a student, however, finds they learn better in the spaced-out d1/d2 system, they currently only have one choice in TVDSB. Please do not let this become no choice.

5. Day 1/Day 2 is London Central’s advantage because lessons might be able to be condensed, but learning cannot.

I understand this change might be done to ease the administration and to have all TVDSB schools be on semestered calendars. But please, please consider the advantage and good merit London Central has always brought to the TVDSB. It is consistently the highest performing school in TVDSB. This is incredibly good publicity for the board, and a large part of its strong performance is the excellent students that year after year want to join Central for its rigour, challenge, and unique d1/d2 system. Take this away and in five, ten years, London Central will be just another average high school in London. There will be no standout reason for a motivated student to want to commute 40 minutes each way every single day to go to a semestered school in an old, cramped downtown location when they could just walk to their new, local suburban one. A large majority of Central’s student body are commuters, many of whom actively choose to attend a school much further away because they recognize the unique value that Central provides towards nurturing their interests. Please consider what has kept Central a top contender for years and years. It is not the downtown location, or the proximity to city hall. It is the people. It has always been the people. The teachers that care so much about this place, the students that they raised and who all genuinely want to be the best they can be. Take this away and Central loses what has always made it the strongest high school in the entire Southwest Ontario region.

There is a reason higher education is not structured to have lectures every single day. Students need time to digest material, having physics lectures every single day would not help me understand the material because it’s not that I need to ask the teacher questions, I just need time to go over what we learned and digest it on my own time. The same goes with English essays. In a Day 1/Day 2 system, we can have a peer review of our essays on one day, have a full day to edit and revise, and come back and review again on the next Day 1. The edits and changes I can make are of a much higher caliber than if I only had one afternoon before I had to go back for another peer review session. There is a reason many university medical science programs frown upon students who take Biology 12 in summer school in an attempt to increase their mark. In fact, many university engineering programs flat out refuse or deduct your Physics 12 mark if you took it in summer school. Why is that? The content is the same, no? The total number of hours in the classroom is the same, no? It’s because the universities know that even if on paper the ‘total number of hours’ is the same, the quality of learning is not equivalent to a student who has had months and months to digest the material.

6. Mental health is a lifelong process, not just a short-term issue in High school.

There is a view that students cope better with fewer courses at one time, and in light of the importance of mental health, a reduction in courses per semester is necessary. First off, I completely agree that the mental health of students is paramount. Having actively looked for, and participated in safeTALK training in university, I wholeheartedly recognize it is a key issue. Relating this to schools however, I would like to raise three key points:

  1. It is unlikely that the increased courses a student is taking simultaneously is the sole cause of poor student mental health. Rather, from my personal experience (as well as the experiences of my peers), the mental health struggles experienced at Central stem from a multitude of factors that have both academic and non-academic causes. Changing the academic structure of Central without examining other factors for poor mental-health among Central students will likely not be successful in the long-term.
  2. Secondly, many former students have found the workload of university to be comparable to that of Central. Thus, while the course load feels intense initially, it allows students to adapt, and eventually succeed in university (when education is no longer free, and wellness resources become scarce).
    That being said, it is still extremely important to ensure that students do not equate struggling in high school to mean that they are unequipped for university or are unintelligent. Promoting a better sense of wellness among students and ensuring they do not equate grades with self-esteem (a problem which plagues many students at Central) is a more long-term solution than simply changing the structure of semesters themselves.
  3. A third important point to consider is that students develop strong connections with teachers who are with them throughout an entire year (or even consecutive, continuous years) of school. To follow a student’s progress over ten months versus five allows the teacher to develop a true sense of the student’s character. As with many students, seeking help and asking for advice has always been easier for me when I know the other party cares for who I am not just as a student, but as a person, because they have been with me as I have grown and changed over time.

    Following the first release of this article, a peer of mine reached out to share their story on how the teachers at Central had quite literally changed their life. They admitted they struggled tremendously in Grade 12. Due to external mental health factors which made it extremely difficult to focus on school, they were barely passing many crucial university-level classes. However, because of the strong relationships they had built with their teachers in previous years, their teachers recognized that their performance this year had been abnormal and were extremely supportive in accommodating them academically and personally throughout the entire year. As a direct result of their teachers’ support, they were able to enter a competitive university-level program and are now studying in medical school. This is just one example among many of what some of the supportive staff members of Central have done for students, after having established strong interpersonal relationships with them. This is truly something that can only be done over time, and is much harder when you only see each other for five months a year.

Mental health challenges will not be solved with one institutional change, but rather through a collective effort. Instead of simply changing the school’s scheduling, a move which would also put cherished programs like music in jeopardy, resources could be better used to support faculty members in assessing and accommodating student well-being. Emphasizing mental-wellness early on will ensure that students prioritize these skills in university, which will help guarantee their success in the future. On the contrary, a change in scheduling to reduce course load is unlikely to result in this realization.

There is an urgent need for a reassessment of this choice to switch Central to be a semestered school. It must be asked to London Central alumni who have graduated, teachers who have given their whole careers to the school, and parents who have raised children through the school. Ask the alumni what their experiences of transitioning to universities, the workforce are. It is not enough to just ask current students and parents as you cannot see the forest from the trees.

I will end on one final note. You cannot expect to learn to play much on the violin in four months, but you can really play something at the end of eight months. Even if it is numerically the same number of hours, condensed teaching time is not equivalent to time spent by the student learning. It is analogous for all learning. Music takes practice, as does math homework and essay writing. No condensing of teaching can replace the students’ own time spent honing the skill. It is more commitment for the teachers to teach on Day 1/Day 2 system, but if the teachers at Central are still willing (and silently fighting) to continue to do it this way, then please, I ask, hear and learn from their lived experience and let it continue. If we are talking about igniting sparks, it is done by the irreplaceable teachers Central attracts, we should not, and can not let that be lost to systematic changes.

I am the engineer, musician and person I am today because I was given the opportunity, patience and time to build my character at London Central Secondary School. It is important for us to keep in mind that we are not simply an institution for four years of school, we are shaping personalities, entire lives. This takes time. As Herbert Spencer stated, “The great aim of education is not knowledge but action”. Let’s keep London Central a place of action.

Thank you for your time and consideration, I am more than happy to share my thoughts in any panel or additional correspondence. I am available any time at yl[dot] huang637[at]gmail[dot]com

Take care,
Yilin Huang,
LCSS Graduate 2016

February 28, 2021

Edit: There is a change.org petition that you can sign here.

Edit: [Feb 28, 2021, 23:40] A 6th point was added after the initial release to discuss the effect of course loads on mental health.

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