Students Thrive with New Daily Bell Schedule

Dear Hill-Murray Community,

Nearly a year has passed since Hill-Murray published the new daily bell schedule, a change implemented at the beginning of this academic year. While determining the start and end times of each class may seem straightforward, the reality is that the process of designing and implementing the new daily bell schedule took months of input gathering, feedback collection, data analysis, and a thorough examination of educational best practices. Additionally, we pored over the latest information regarding what our young people need today to ensure that the new schedule is conducive to our students’ mental and physical health. I am pleased to say that as we start the second semester of the year, the new schedule has proven successful in achieving the objectives outlined in the implementation plan. These goals include supporting students’ well-being, promoting durable learning, strategically aligning with our unique mission and vision, and optimizing the time, space, and program requirements for both students and teachers.

From an academic perspective, the new schedule enables students to delve deeper into the curriculum, allowing time to focus on the material, develop higher-level thinking, and make connections to learning that are retained over time. Imagine having seven different meetings scheduled in a day, each with a different topic requiring a different kind of brain power. In our new schedule, students have no more than four classes a day which allows them to focus their attention on fewer subjects and pace out the work required outside of class.

One of the additional benefits of the new schedule is that it allows students to take advantage of classes that are unique to our mission. For example, we have been able to expand the number of seniors taking Christian Service Learning, a course where students serve in local grade schools during the regular Hill-Murray school day. This year, 148 seniors were able to take the course based on the new schedule. It was half that number last year.

Student health and well-being is always top of mind for me, and the new schedule supports students in this regard. Last year we surveyed students and asked about their stress levels. While our younger students reported fairly low stress levels, 50% of our juniors said that they were stressed out “always or most of the time” and 60% of seniors said the same. The new schedule is designed to alleviate school stress by providing time for brain breaks, access to food, time “owned” by students, and additional access to teachers for extra support. We accomplished this in part by providing regular and more frequent WIN (What I Need) time during the week.

Also new this year is a program in the High School called “Connections,” which is a group of students paired with two faculty members. Much like the name, the group meets once a week to simply make a connection, have some fun, and strengthen the sense of community within the group. During one of the Connections time, the group was doing a “rose, thorn, and bud” discussion – rose (what is going really well for you right now), thorn (what is hard or tricky right now), and bud (what is hopeful or what are you excited about right now). It was wonderful to witness the sharing and connecting in action.

The new schedule has also allowed us to provide middle school students with expanded opportunities. Pioneer Pathways is a new semester course that all middle school students will take. The course gives students the tools to become engaged and successful Hill-Murray students and leaders. This course focuses on the “The Pioneer Way,” and includes units on goal setting, self-reflection, relationships, digital citizenship, navigating challenges, mindset, school spirit, and leadership. One of my favorite moments from last semester was when the 6th graders were learning the school song. They belted it out in great style!

Another feature of the new schedule is a weekly late start on Wednesday mornings. This late start is only for students – our teachers are at school early and use the precious time for collaborative work and professional development. This has already made a significant impact on our ability to move the needle on curriculum revision and alignment. For students, this extra mid-week day to sleep in can have a positive impact. We know that sleep, along with diet and exercise, are the pillars of well-being and our students are not always the best at managing to get a good night’s sleep. While one late start a week will not solve the sleep issue, it is a step in the right direction as we continue to support students in their journey to be balanced and healthy.

In closing, I extend my deepest gratitude to all of our Hill-Murray parents, guardians, and students for your support. The success of the new schedule is a testament to our collaborative spirit, and I am confident that its positive impact will continue to unfold in the days ahead. As we embark on the second semester, let us remain committed to fostering an environment where each student can thrive academically, spiritually, emotionally, and socially. Together, we shape the future of Hill-Murray, ensuring that it remains a place of inspiration, growth, and enduring connections.

Warmest wishes,

Melissa Dan
Hill-Murray School President