Extension of Learning and Stress: FLHS Students and Staff Respond to School During Regents Week

Sophomore Erika Versoza came to school using her father’s car on a cold Wednesday like she would on any regular school day. Like other students at the school, Versoza entered the 57 year-old school building feeling “a bit annoyed” that she had to come to school on a day New York City high school students are normally off. That is due to the extension of the school year – the addition of classes during January Regents Week, which sparked various reactions among Francis Lewis High School students and staff.

While a majority of New York City’s public high school students were off from school, FLHS students – along with Bayside High School students – attended classes while Regents exams were administered to students who were scheduled to take them from January 25 to 27. On an exception, FLHS students did not come to school on January 24 when the English Regents was administered.

“I would normally spend Regents Week studying, catching up on sleep, and having a stress relief from the overload of school work,” Versoza said. “Sometimes people don’t get how much stress students go through nowadays because education is getting tougher.”

Versoza, like other FLHS students who voiced their opinion, would have spent Regents Week resting from school work and sleeping. The previous year, students came to school during the week to take Regents exams. When asked to compare this year’s January Regents Week to last year’s, students like sophomore Jacky Qui said this year was “worse.”

“Last year I had one hour in school during Regents Week,” said Qui. “This year… I would spend about a whole day at school.”

Regents Week also affected vacation plans for families as concerned parents told Social Studies teacher Ms. Dellabonta.

“I know many parents and students complained to me that neighboring schools did not follow the same schedule,” Dellabonta said. “It often interrupted parent and student plans as children that may be attending other schools and other buildings did not have complementary schedules.”

The reasoning behind the extended class time came from statistics from previous years analyzed by Principal Dr. Marmor and his cabinet of assistant principals. The decision would later be backed by the school’s Parent Teacher Association. The reasoning behind this decision was also accounted for last school year’s decision to hold midterms during Regents Week.

“The number of Regents exams given during January continued to get smaller and smaller,” Principal Dr. Marmor said. “As of last year, except the day that we do the English Regents where we do about 11 or 12 hundred exams, the number of exams on any given day in this building was now less than 100 per day… Last year, [all the assistant principals and I] decided to try midterms on that week, and there was degrees of opinions of whether or not doing midterms during Regents Week was the right thing to do. This year, we discussed it, and decided to try a different strategy: we decided to teach regular classes only on three of the day. We discussed it with the teachers union.”

While students like Versoza and Qui went to class, students who were scheduled to take the three hour-long Regents exams persisted to take examinations in the outdoor trailers in temperatures ranging from the mid-50s to mid-30s according to AccuWeather. Students who did not take any Regents exams like sophomore Gabriella Man expressed pity for Regents-takers, saying that they must have felt really “sad and emotional.”

“If you have to take a really long test and still go to class, it’s just too much pressure,” Man said.

Versoza added on to Man’s pity by saying, “Yes, education matters, but think about the student’s lives and health first.”

On Wednesday of that week, a few announcements were made on the PA system during testing by Assistant Principal Ms. Palomino regarding the recently distributed Spring term program cards, which could be heard from the trailers. In response to those announcements, Dr. Marmor said the staff did “the best [they] could to provide them with a very quiet, safe learning environment.”

“Remember, we are also talking about less than 100 kids in the building out of 4,500, so it was a very small number of kids taking the Regents exams,” Dr. Marmor said. “We used the trailers for them to take the Regents exams so that they were isolated. We did not do morning announcements, we did not do “The Pledge”, and we did not do any basic announcements. There may have been a couple of emergency announcements… but again that was only limited to emergency announcements during situations.”

With the extra class time during Regents Week, Dr. Marmor believes that it was beneficial because it made up for the loss of time from the new shortened bell schedule.

“We cut your classes down by three minutes a class everyday,” Dr. Marmor said. “The amount of time lost instructionally over the course of the year is significant… the number of class periods of instruction that you lost, losing just three minutes is very significant – it’s way more than three periods. One of the primary reasons that I added those three days was to gain back very valuable instructional time to help you prepare for Regents exams, help you prepare for the AP exams, and help students achieve their objectives and goals in their classes.”

“By adding those three days back, we were able to immediately add what really is about 120, maybe 130, minutes of instruction per class back. Cancelling the three minutes of class plus not teaching during Regents Week puts a lot of pressure on teachers later in the year to rush through the curriculum to get to the end so that they can prepare you for the Regents and the AP exams.”

Dr. Marmor was not alone in terms of his reasoning. Ms. Dellabonta used Regents Week to teach her AP classes and observe midterm presentations from her International Studies class.

“It benefitted my AP students to have the extra three days of instruction,” Dellabonta said. “I used it to elaborate on my instruction, and there was little interruption as most of my students did not have Regents to take during the week. My International Studies classes presented their midterm projects throughout the week, though I did have to adjust schedules for presentations so that way students scheduled for Regents would not miss their presentations.”

Despite her feeling “a bit annoyed,” Versoza, who is currently taking this May’s AP World History exam, agreed that she would have gained more study time from Regents Week.

“I [benefited] from going to school during Regents Week,” Versoza said. “I [had] more time to study and get ready for tests.”

Despite the benefits, some students still believe that classes during Regents Week had no positive impact on them. Looking back on Regents Week, sophomore Roselie Bongiovi said that she would have skipped Regents Week if she could.

“There was no reason for me to be in class,” Bongiovi said. ”If you asked me what I did during Regents Week, I could say I learned how to sit in class and do substitute work because none of my teachers [were present].”

When asked about the opinions stated by students like Bongiovi’s, Dr. Marmor refuted by mentioning how class time was supposed be used productively.

“If students didn’t take the Regents and they were in class, there really shouldn’t be a reason why the class time wasn’t productive,” Dr. Marmor said. “There should be no reason why they should feel as though the time was wasted. Anyone individual case where something unproductive was going on, well I would need to know about that because again, we had plenty of notice, and all teachers were instructed to use the time productively.”

During Regents Week, teachers did have to leave their classes to proctor exams. When asked about what advice she could give the principal, Ms. Dellabonta expressed how Regents Week should be ran the way it regularly does to allow teachers to proctor as well as benefit Regents-takers.

“Operate the Regents week as it is meant to be,” Dellabonta said. “[Allow] teachers to be here to proctor, assist and eventually be sent out to grade without worrying about leaving their classes without their own personal instruction, and allow students to be able to take Regents within the building as opposed to the trailers, which in the winter, can be problematic.”

Students expressed pity for their teachers – having to proctor Regents exams, teach classes, and grade midterms. Bongiovi took into account how one of her teachers felt after the week.

“[Teachers had] to teach a class, grade exams, grade essays, grade the Regents exams that were taken during the week, and now they’re just shot,” said Bongiovi. “I remember my teacher was just not okay. My English Language teacher, Ms. Milos… came in the next day and she was sick… because she was overworked.”

From Thursday to Friday during Regents Week, English teachers were absent from school to grade the English Regents administered on the past Tuesday. Principal Dr. David Marmor had commented on the absence of the English Department during the week, saying he was informed about their absence after the decision was made.

“When we made the decision to teach, we did not know that we were going to lose the English Department teachers,” Dr. Marmor said. “The notification came after we had already decided to make the decision to teach those classes… We were going to lose 20 to 25 English teacher to grade the Regents. That is obviously going to factor into our decision on whether or not we are going to do this again.”

Bongiovi’s English teacher Ms. Milos, advocated how she felt about the situation, turning to the voice of Professor Faber from the novel, Fahrenheit 451, remarking on how he believed society needed “‘leisure to digest’” (Bradbury, 1953).

“Basically, I agree with [her],” Bongiovi said.

Along with the positive and negative views on Regents Week, neutral perspectives were presented. To some students like sophomore Elleot Sanchez, Regents Week went on “like regular normal classes.”

“I felt nothing really,” said Sanchez.  “[It] just felt normal. I came to class like I’m suppose to… Nothing changed for me, so everything was fine.”

Dr. Marmor has yet to make a decision to make on next year’s Regents Week.

“After examining it that doing nothing, meaning just… only doing Regents, I do not believe that after looking at it that’s the right answer, but we have not yet set on what is the right answer,” Dr. Marmor said. “We are still examining whether we should go back to doing midterms, whether we should continue to teach classes. I’m engaging on a discussion with [students, teachers, and the assistant principals] to figure out what is the right answer. We are going to examine how last year worked, how this year worked, and what we want to do for the future.”

Ms. Dellabonta suggested that having all teachers and students present allows the classes to have more benefits.

“The ways the instructional days were approached would have been much more beneficial with all teachers and students present in all the classes to create more fluidity throughout the week, but that simply wasn’t the case,” she said. Regarding her earlier comment on advice for Dr. Marmor, she continued, “If that is not a plausible solution [running Regents Week the way it does normally], use Regents week for both midterms and Regents, but the midterms must be operated in a much more effective fashion. This way there are very little interruptions in regards to instruction, and students can still adequately take all the necessary exams in a much more organized format.”

Students have argued that having midterms on Regents Week was better than classes on Regents Week. Like Jacky Qiu, Erika Versoza said she “would prefer last year’s schedule of going to school to take midterms than to have this years schedule.”

Despite the views of the students and staff, Dr. Marmor said that his ultimate decisions are for the benefit of the students.

“My job is not to make the students happy,” he said. “My job is to give students a brighter future.”