At Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School, the monarch butterfly is a symbol of school spirit and pride. With a new school year underway, the private, all-girls high school has launched an innovative new scheduling system that is generating great momentum and buzz among students and families of Gwynedd.
With the moniker, “Monarchs in Motion,” the student-centered schedule extends beyond academics and creates a structure that provides flexibility and empowers students by giving them more control over the time, path, place, and pace of their learning and development.
In the spring of 2019, Gwynedd Mercy launched a five-year strategic development plan and identified five goals to focus on — education, leadership, wellness, connection, and vitality.
“One component of the goal for education was to look at the student’s schedule critically, especially because it is at the core of the student experience and connects to each of our other goals,” said Dean of Academics, Anne Casavecchia. “In living our mission, we always want to be innovative in the ways that we educate, inspire, and empower our students at Gwynedd Mercy.”
Students, parents, faculty, and staff all weighed in with feedback about the traditional eight-period schedule where students attend the same eight classes in the same order each day, or block schedules where curriculum is studied for a single semester. Gwynedd Mercy partnered with Independent School Management (ISM), an educational consulting company, to analyze their traditional schedule and design an alternative system that met the needs and interests of everyone involved. The school also looked to their mascot, the monarch butterfly, to embrace transformation and reach new academic heights by putting a rotating schedule in motion.
Monarchs in Motion
The research-based academic schedule introduces a rotating cycle of 60-minute classes where students attend classes at different times to enhance attention and learning.
“When teachers and students have a full hour in the class, they’re able to dive more deeply into the content than they would in 40 minutes,” said Casavecchia. “The schedule also rotates, which offers great benefits. For example, if I struggled in a particular subject and I had that subject at the end of every day when I was tired, it might not reflect my best performance. Now with the schedule rotating, students have classes at various times of the day. It also assists our student-athletes who occasionally have early dismissals. Now they’re not missing the same classes on a routine basis.”
Each day the rotation of classes differs. With a rotating schedule, students attend four of the eight total available courses each day, with a total of eight rotating days. In Gwynedd Mercy’s rotation, there is a built-in Community period each day between the first and second periods. The 55-minute period grants students additional meeting time with teachers and counselors and more time to complete independent work and assignments during the school day. With this structure, students have added time for social development, emotional engagement, and co-curricular activities.
“It’s a dynamic period. It puts the kids in the driver’s seat,” said Dean of Student Affairs, Eileen Carty. “They get to decide how they’re going to manage that time. Every day, their Community period is going to look different. They might have a club meeting one day. They might have an appointment with a college counselor the next day.”
In addition to the daily Community period, students also have a Seminar period built into their schedule. The Seminar period allows for the implementation of the Wellness Curriculum. Multiple departments have collaborated to deliver content to students in areas that fall outside of their academic requirements, including topics such as interviewing, resume writing, stress, and service. This allows for an intentional approach to addressing student needs outside of the classroom.
The newly implemented schedule is a tool where students can view time as a resource, and productivity and proactivity hold high value. Carty shares, “As a college prep school, naturally an emphasis on academics is important. An added critical component for our committee when creating the new schedule was intentional time and space to afford students balance. This contributes to the holistic development for each and every Gwynedd student — mind, body, and spirit.”
“Parents and students are already overwhelmingly supportive and invigorated by the great changes,” said Director of Enrollment Management, Kim Dunphy Scott ‘84. “It’s been a seamless transition, and students recognize that they can utilize their time more effectively in the classroom to help manage stress. Now, students come home with less homework, and seniors have more time to complete college applications with their counselors. We’re offering our students creative and innovative solutions to succeed and invest in themselves. By investing in themselves, they can be and do better for and with others.”
For a school which was founded more than 160 years ago, this notion is nothing new. Mercy Education first began in the 1830s by a young woman in Dublin, Ireland, named Catherine McAuley. With a modest inheritance from a family she had served, Catherine opened the first Mercy school, recognizing education as the means to inspire and empower others to serve themselves and those around them. Today, the legacy of Catherine McAuley carries forth as Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School continues to educate, inspire, and empower young women to be merciful in spirit, innovative in thought, and courageous in leadership.
Gwynedd Mercy is hosting an Open House on Sunday, October 3 from 11AM – 2PM. All prospective students and their families are invited to meet with Gwynedd students, faculty, and staff, and experience guided tours of the campus facilities. Register at gmahs.org/admissions.