Juliana Luong and Luella Harding also contributed to this article.
It is now approaching the end of October, and students have begun to experience the academic rigor of high school—an inevitably drastic change from the previous virtual school year.
In high school, stress is multifaceted. It can stem from having to practice rigorously in dedication to a sport, sending in countless college applications, caring for siblings while taking on a pile of homework, dealing with sudden onsets of assessments, and too many other factors. Students are then left facing a difficult question: how can they balance school and life?
As students and faculty alike adjust to an altered school setting, Malden High School has sought to address these concerns with the introduction of Flex Block this year.
Flex Block is an 85-minute period divided into two segments: the first is “Enrichment”, where students concentrate on academic tasks/project-based learning; and after that is “Joy”, where they can take part in one of many staff-hosted activities of their choice. The block occurs on Gold Days, allowing high schoolers to temporarily escape from academic distress and do something they enjoy.
Flex Block is divided into cycles, where students can access a selection of Enrichment and Joy sessions from the “Edficiency” website, only one click away from Malden High School’s Clever portal. They can apply for a session that piques their curiosity. Each cycle is expected to last around three weeks and cut to two after the new year, allowing students to experience more activities.
The program, which commenced in early September this year, was designed to offer students both additional academic enrichment opportunities and another avenue to explore their interests. During its creation, Principal Chris Mastrangelo voiced understanding for how academically demanding high school is and found it “unfortunate witnessing the amount of pressure students put on themselves.” Academic stress then became an important foundation of building Flex Block. Mastrangelo has felt “incredibly pleased” with the outcome thus far and can say likewise for other faculty members who helped build the program.
Caitlin Quinn, guidance counselor of Holland house for grades 10-12 who assumed Flex leader alongside Ms. Jessica Bisson, expressed her enthusiasm for Flex Block as a “huge win.” She emphasized the socializing aspect of the program, “something [students and teachers] have missed from a world before the pandemic,” and hoped that the opportunity for new interactions with peers will “continue in the hallways and in future classes.”
English teacher Brian Wong voiced his feelings about his “Hip Hop Legends” Joy session, saying “It is important to expose people to music from different decades,” and that he “found that many students haven’t heard things outside of a very narrow band of music.” The reason why he set it up is for students to “talk about music...there's just so much music out there that students might actually like if they heard it.”
Adding to the importance of the Flex Block, Shauna Campbell, a marine biology teacher who is hosting fish tank setups for Enrichment and board games for Joy block, said “[She] thinks Flex Block is a good way to learn about things in a more student-centered way because the groups are small and students can dictate what we are doing.”
Spanish teacher Elena Mayer is offering Capoeira for her Joy block, which is an Afro-Brazilian martial art form. Mayer explains that “It involves songs in Portuguese, various rhythms that dictate different styles of playing, self-defense, gymnastics, and swag,” and “is all about decolonization and familiar to many students already because [Malden High has] such a large Brazilian-American community here.” Furthermore, she emphasizes that “students can work out, play some music, sing, and learn another language all at once. Most importantly, it’s fun.”
For her Enrichment period, senior Yusra Tafraoui is taking Play Production Workspace. Being in Play Production since her sophomore year, she loves having the opportunity to take this time during the day to “work on rehearsing lines and choreography.” Currently, the group is working on practicing for their production of Gypsy the Musical, and “after a year not being able to participate in Play Production,” she appreciates having this extra time to work on her big role with others in preparing for their upcoming performance in November.
Another aspect of Flex Block that many seniors have found helpful is having the opportunity to work on college applications and think about other post-graduation-related plans during the school day. Senior Mackenzie Brennen is currently taking the College/Career Application Support for her Enrichment period with Holland house guidance counselor Caitlin Quinn, and says that she likes it because “it allows [her] to get direct help from Ms. Quinn without having to make an appointment.” She explained that having this time built into the school day has made it easier to get feedback on her application.
Taryn Belowsky, a Brunelli guidance counselor, hosts a similar Enrichment period where she provides college and career preparation for seniors and acknowledges the great opportunity for “students to have additional support” and “bond with them more regularly.” Also the co-coordinator of an outdoor walking and talking session alongside Ms. Fornash for Joy, Belowsky loves “being able to get out of the building for a little while” and “continue bonding with students” with the conversational aspect of the activity.
For his Joy block, sophomore Harrison Ashley appreciates how it “lets [him] take a break from the academic aspect of school for a little [while].” Ashley is currently taking stress-relief and coloring with Melanie Cabral, and he enjoys having the time to “chill out during the day” as well as being able to socialize with friends he doesn’t normally have classes with.
Other students find “joy” in being able to do more activities that interest them. Freshman Marc Naceus is one of many students partaking in racquet sport activities hosted by Mark Gagnon in the gymnasium. Naceus appreciates that it has “taken off some of the weight” from academic stress, and “if it didn’t bring enough heat, [he] can change it in [the next cycle].” Junior Jose Mejia Guerrero, who is participating in a study for Enrichment and board games for Joy, also adds “[He] does not have any complaints about the Flex Block.”
Melissa Sheehan, English teacher and hosting a grade nine English support for Enrichment and silent reading space for Joy, says “[She] thinks one thing that could be improved about Flex Block is how [teachers] take attendance and hold students accountable to their sessions,” and that “[She] has a lot of students on [her] roster who have never shown up.”
The Flex Block options filling up quickly have also had a large impact on how students feel about going to their Enrichment and Joy blocks in general, perhaps being a reason for this attendance issue. An anonymous junior at Malden High brought up that “for the waiting list, some people are really looking forward to joining a certain block, but then other people already fill it up.” If these blocks become filled up, students are placed in a completely random class that they are not able to switch out of until the three weeks is up. Additionally, she explains that “if [they] don’t choose on time, people end up choosing for [them], so [they] really don’t enjoy [Flex Block] for the time being and then it ends up being a very extended amount of time that [they are] just bored.”
Along with there not being enough room in many of the popular Joy and Enrichment classes, junior Christel Jean-Baptiste points out how “there aren’t enough options to choose what [students] are really interested in.” She suggests having more options for popular Joy and Enrichment blocks that students are more interested in and want to be a part of.
Junior Michelle Dang feels that “the short time for Flex Block is jarring and should be improved.” Similarly, senior Danny Du agrees that “having two split blocks as Enrichment and Joy . . . should just be one block.”
Sophomore Victor Desouza says that overall he likes that Flex Block gives him “some time to pursue what [he wants] to do.” However, similar to Dang, he also mentions that “if [they] were given more time during Flex Block, it would be a lot better.” Desouza brings up the suggestion to switch periods 3 or 6 and Flex Block. “Instead of whatever class [they] have determining what lunch [they] have, instead, [they would] have the class where Flex Block is and Flex Block during [the lunch period].”
Another aspect of Flex Block that many students think there should be improvements to is the website Edficiency. Senior Mateus Flaherty states that “[he thinks] that the interface is really annoying.” This past cycle, for his Joy block, Flaherty originally signed up for video games with teacher Gregory Simone. However, not knowing that this class had filled up, “[he] had no idea [he] was in [another] class until the day of.” Flaherty “feel[s] like [they] should at least get better notification when [they’re] not in a class,” and if they don’t get into their first choice, they are given the option to choose another class.
Flex has currently entered its third rotation, where students can continue exploring the several Enrichment and Joy sessions offered. Still a relatively new application in the schedule, Mr. Mastrangelo had acknowledged that “[Flex Block] was a big undertaking and may requirebe one or two cycles away from its optimum,” but he envisioned that the program will be well-conditioned in Malden High’s future.