Opinion Showcase

Why MarinSEL Sophomores Are Begging to Wake Up Early

One of the main negatives about going to the Marin School of Environmental Leadership is having to go to school early to attend a zero period class. This has been the way for as long as the program has been alive, and is a feature that has often been seen as the trade-off for joining. Sure, you get a different learning experience that may benefit people who like working in groups, but you also have to go to zero period at 6:55 in the morning.

However, earlier this month it was confirmed that the current sophomore MarinSEL class, (of which we, the writers of this article are a part) will not have  a zero period next year as  juniors. Perhaps surprisingly, there was quite the blowback in response. So why is it that people are complaining about what is considered to be one of the most annoying parts of the program?

Well, there are several reasons why students are less than happy about it. This includes not being able to take the desired number of classes, having to choose between an elective and a language, extracurriculars conflicting with a seventh period, and not having a free period to get work done. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this change wasn’t made with bad intentions. MarinSEL sophomore Erin McDaniel reminds students to have empathy for the teachers who also need their sleep. “It’s not just us in this situation, it’s the administration and the rest of the school,” she stated. The administration had to consider a lot of different factors, and it is understandable  why, for the most part, it worked out as it did. Concerns were ongoing about student health and the effect of sleep deprivation as a result of having to wake up early. An article by Stanford Medicine, titled “Among Teens, Sleep Deprivation is an Epidemic” by Ruthann Richter, describes the details of this issue further. “Sleep deprivation increases the likelihood teens will suffer myriad negative consequences, including an inability to concentrate, poor grades, drowsy-driving incidents, anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide and even suicide attempts. It’s a problem that knows no economic boundaries.” The administration acknowledges this, and wants to alleviate the issue by getting rid of zero period.

Another issue that concerns both students and staff is the inability to concentrate due to sleep loss. When teens don’t get as much sleep as they typically need (about nine hours), they struggle to stay focused in class. While many students can attest to this fact from personal experience, it’s also evident to the teachers observing them. As MarinSEL teacher Alex Robins put it, “Having a fifteen or sixteen year old having to rely on coffee to be awake in a class, sort of speaks to me [about] the systemic problem with having [zero period] at all.”

As the MarinSEL World History, English, and future AP US History teacher, Mr. Robins is  a supporter of the removal of the program, arguing that  zero period is bad for students. “There’s a lot of research that is saying that if given a choice whether to…sleep more or drop an activity, kids will always sleep less,” he claims. Even worse, teenagers generally  don’t go to bed early. Robins emphasised how tired and disengaged his students are that early in the day.

On why zero period was created, Robins explained that zero period was used as a buffer to create space for other classes during the day, because Seminar (a class exclusively used for MarinSEL work) doesn’t count for any credit, despite the large amount of work required by the class. “The program is working on making it qualify as an elective. And if it does, I don’t think we need zero [period].” But considering the changes, he thinks it’s okay if people want to leave the program. “If that’s the change that we as a program decide on, then you have every right to not be a part of it. That’s your right.” Nevertheless, he encourages students not to “let pride and expectations get in the way of being realistic.”

Another point to consider is the fact that being in MarinSEL is a privilege. As sophomore Ana Ostrovsky put it, “I think [my peers] all have valid points, I understand people who have direct conflicts, but I feel like we’re really lucky to be in the program… and if what they need to do is remove zero, then they need to be okay with that.”

Essentially, the staff sees zero period as the root of several issues plaguing students, and some students may agree with this. However, our view is that removing zero period will cause more harm than keeping it.

It’s fairly obvious the MarinSEL sophomores are a class of over-achievers. While not everyone wants to take 8 classes and 4 APs in their junior year, those that do are very adamant in their stance on the zero period subject. Typical non-MarinSEL students at TL can take 7 classes. This means that besides the minimum classes required for graduation (English, history, math, science), students have three extra class to fill up with whatever they want. A language, electives, and other classes are all possibilities available to students. But as a MarinSEL student this is not the case. The three MarinSEL classes required for juniors and the lack of zero period mean that besides the minimum classes, only one free class is left. And for those who want to take 8 classes this is troubling, especially for students who want to get into a competitive college. We find ourselves struggling with the decision of whether or not to drop classes we’ve wanted or find it important to take. And since MarinSEL is supporting general academic success and wants to help with college-readiness, why should it limit us to the minimum subjects required for junior year? In fact, over-achieving and academic excellence should be encouraged.

Another problem many students have with the lack of zero period is that they can’t have a more relaxed schedule. Instead of taking 8 classes these people only want to take 6. This is so they can have more free time that can help with homework, sports, extracurriculars, or even can be used to just spend time with friends. But when zero period is taken away, they are forced to take seven classes. They are even forced to have a seventh period, which can be very inconvenient for some people. All in all, taking away zero period means none of us can take the classes we want, from both ends of the spectrum.

In a survey given to all thirty MarinSEL sophomores it was found that the biggest reason people were upset about taking away zero period was because they couldn’t take the electives they wanted to take. MarinSEL sophomores are finding themselves having to choose between an elective, a language, or another math or science. These are all important classes that people have to take and it is extremely inconvenient for them to have to stick to the bare minimum. MarinSEL sophomore Myla Gupta talked about her inability to take the language she wants. “With the removal of zero period, I won’t be able to pursue AP Spanish. Not only is it enjoyable, but an important practical skill in our community.”

Despite the sleep-in time gained when zero period is taken away, many students actually aren’t too concerned about the issue of sleep loss in the first place. They are willing to give up their sleep for the activities they do no matter the cost. MarinSEL sophomore Joe Huang even makes a point that the extra sleep gained is only going to be about twenty to thirty minutes because of morning traffic at the normal wake up time, practically nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Another concern of some students is how much it complicates scheduling. With only one free period open to next year’s MarinSEL juniors, there is going to be potential conflict between the electives those students want to take and classes they have to take. Because the classes that are strictly for MarinSEL students are mandatory, if a class is only available during those periods, then a student won’t be able to take that class at all. This has been an issue for some students before, and by moving one of these MarinSEL classes into the normal Terra Linda schedule, it could potentially be an even more common conflict.

Conversely, some students are worried that they won’t be able to not take a class. Many MarinSEL students rely on a free period to do homework. MarinSEL sophomore Max Manwaring-Mueller talked about his problem with no free period: “If zero period gets taken away, and class gets moved up, I won’t have that extra time to get homework done and accomplish more during the school day to work on the four AP homework I’m going to have.” It’s a choice between taking a class like a language, which some students are very passionate about, or having a free period to manage the work from all of their AP’s, both of which carry heavy drawbacks. It’s a lose-lose situation. MarinSEL sophomore Jackson Darby relies on not having a seventh period to get to his sport on time. “For me personally, a student who does a sport outside of school, it presents particular challenges.… Rowing as a sport is providing me opportunities that I never saw, such as potentially being recruited to a top school… But a mandatory MSEL class in the seventh period, due to the elimination of zero, it’s putting me in a terrible situation where I have to choose between two things that I really love and enjoy.”

A lack of a free period could also force students to do all of their work after school, making it extremely stressful or completely impossible to do any extracurricular activities. If they want to play sports or work on projects that aren’t school related, they would have to drop the one elective class they have to be able to do the homework during their free period. In this case,  it’s a choice between  having the whole year go by in a monotonous blur of grinding through assignment after assignment every day of every week with nothing fun in between, or doing a sport or other activity to make the year a little less academically-focused but without an elective. It’s a lose-lose situation, and it’s one that wouldn’t even be a concern if zero period was kept in place. MarinSEL sophomore Elly Blatcher describes the dilemma  of having too much work after school, with homework for AP classes, a job, and a College of Marin class. ”I need to work, but I also need to keep my studies up on top of that… It’s going to be a big change for me… and it’s not going to be good.”

The results of a survey conducted among the entire MarinSEL sophomore class demonstrate the unpopularity of the decision to cut zero period. More than one third of students are considering leaving MarinSEL. Although it is extremely upsetting,  this is a choice that some consider best for them.

For many of the concerned parents, teachers, counselors, and administrators involved in this zero period debacle, this may seem like only a small bump in the road. Issues need to be resolved in the easiest way possible, resulting in decisions that require less money and less effort on the behalf of staff, while still benefitting students overall. And we understand there are many other factors in play besides student expectation and satisfaction. But as students who are affected by this problem, we can definitively state that this means a lot to us. Change is hard, especially when it was not anticipated. And time can help ease any transition, as the teachers have reminded us. But even if we appreciate the effort on the behalf of TL’s hardworking staff, we are the students at this school. We are here for a brief but memorable four years and don’t have the same outlook on the situation as the staff, who have been stationary at this school for years. While our reaction may be the effect of very stressed out teens being unpleasantly surprised, high school is important to us and so are the classes we take. Some of us have been planning our schedules for a while. Even if it’s only one class that has to go through this big change, it is our only junior year. And it could be greatly affected by this. It is already being affected.

MarinSEL student Myla Gupta has even created a petition for our cause. “Since their decision directly affects our future, we should have a say in what happens,” she said. As the MarinSEL website states, the “program is designed to give students increasing ownership and independence over their educational experience.” We have tried to fight this removal, but, if the circumstances don’t change, we will need to make some extremely troublesome adaptations with those same skills MarinSEL has taught us. While many people think they know what is best for us, we believe something completely different. Right or wrong, this is how we feel. If the decision remains, we will need the support of those who brought about this change in order to help us adjust to it. Because this issue isn’t just about zero period, it’s about us.

Here are the visual results for the survey mentioned:

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