September 2019
Jennifer Crusco
Communications Assistant

Holy Angels Celebrates 140th Year; Unveils Collegiate “Flex” Schedule

Demarest, NJ: This fall, as the Academy of the Holy Angels celebrates its 140th year of educating young women, the school’s leaders have implemented a “70 Flex Schedule.” The administrative team anticipates that this collegiate-style schedule will enhance durable learning, ameliorate stress, and prepare students for the challenges of the modern world.

“This is an appropriate time to implement innovative scheduling for our students because it reflects our 140 years of continual educational innovation developed with the idea of educating the whole person,” AHA Principal Jean Miller noted.

“We are learning that students are prioritizing academics at the expense of important aspects of their personal lives, such as sleep, exercise, family time, and developing healthy relationships with peers, which, in turn, is greatly affecting their physical, mental, and social health. When general health and well-being decline, so does the capacity for genuine learning.”

The rotating block schedule features an eight-day cycle that allows students to take eight courses without altering the length of the school day. Students will have 70-minute classes a few times a week, rather than meet for shorter sessions every day. Teachers will be able to go into greater depth in their various subject areas and provide time for student reflection.

Miller said the new schedule provides additional time for some Advanced Placement classes, improves course selection, and reduces the number of adjusted schedules.

A notable change is the addition of “community time,” a flex period in the morning, that will provide greater instructional continuity. Teachers will be able to pull minutes from this period to administer tests or finish a lesson on days when Masses or assemblies are scheduled. According to Miller, community time will help faculty and staff to build better relationships with the students, and will include discreet opportunities for students to get extra help. Community time will also permit teachers to collaborate and participate in professional development.

Miller noted that ISM, a consulting firm that is working with AHA, reported that a sense of community, traditions, the School Sisters of Notre Dame (AHA’s foundresses and sponsors), common goals, spirituality, the value placed on education and academic rigor make AHA what it is today.

The principal anticipates that the new schedule, which ISM recommended, will result in further improvements to the school culture. This goal dovetails with AHA’s 2019-2020 theme: “Love is the bond that unites us.”

Miller noted that some students and families have expressed concerns regarding stress levels, students working late into the night on school projects, and increases in absenteeism and anxiety.

AHA Academic Dean Francesca Tanbone-Puzio said the new schedule should help reduce stress throughout the building, since students will only have to prepare for four classes every day, rather than six.

“The new schedule responds to the needs of our students by providing an environment with reduced stress while creating a culture of personal growth and responsibility. It creates opportunities for our students to effectively manage their time and explore their interests. It also protects the integrity of instructional time and promotes durable learning,” Tambone-Puzio explained.

Miller pointed out that the increased vertical time (minutes per class period) in the new schedule will foster more active classrooms, since there will be opportunities for project-based learning, group projects, reflection, discussion, spaced practice, and authentic/interdisciplinary learning experiences. Students will have more relevant and choice-infused class time, and there will be time for relationships to grow, the educator added.

When vertical time is limited, Miller continued, students can become overloaded with information, and the classroom experience can tend toward “test-tell-repeat.”

The goal, Miller said, is to maximize the durability of the learning experience, and emphasize understanding, rather than the memorization of facts. Because classes will not meet every day, students will have time to reflect and retrieve information from the previous lesson before the next class begins. This allows for emotional and cognitive engagement, Miller said.

When the students were asked what they wanted during their school day, Miller reported that the Angels asked for a quiet room where no one was talking, and a place where they could work on SATs with other people who were engaged in the same activity.

The new schedule will address the students’ wishes, and will include study time, wellness activities such as yoga and meditation, an advisory period for staff members to work with students, time for makeup tests, and designated hours for college counseling assemblies and information sessions. Students will also have more time to join additional clubs.

Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in Bergen County. While AHA is steeped in Catholic tradition, this prestigious high school serves young women from a broad spectrum of cultural and religious backgrounds. Over time, thousands of women have passed through AHA’s portals. Many go on to study at some of the nation’s best universities, earning high-ranking positions in medicine, government, law, education, public service, business, arts, and athletics. The Academy’s current leaders continue to further the SSND mission to provide each student with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially, and physically, by offering a first-rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity, and service to others.


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