Mahomet-Seymour junior high outdoor area

Nathan Mills, principal at Mahomet-Seymour Junior High School, left, and head custodian Don Rogers take a break at a new outside area for the school’s students on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019.

MAHOMET — A list of concerns regarding student schedules at Mahomet-Seymour Junior High School is now a roster of proposed solutions in the works as the 2019-20 school year begins today.

With young people back in the halls of Mahomet-Seymour schools as of this morning, one of the biggest changes in the district is the new lineup for junior high schoolers, ranging from physical education classes versus recess, juggling health and P.E., the lunch schedule and flexibility for special education.

Nathan Mills, principal at the junior high, offered details of the changes.

A slate of six top concerns with the old schedule started with zero-hour foreign language students arriving after the 8:15 a.m. school start time. Those students receive high school credit for the class, but must spend a set amount of time in it. Under the old system, Mills said, that meant that school traffic and other factors had this set of youth getting to their first period classes late.

“No matter what we did ... getting to the classroom, they were a couple or two or three minutes late every day, so that was a concern,” he said. “So to combat that, we’re going to actually start each day with a homeroom.”

That way, the first several minutes of the school day remain flexible, allowing for announcements, check-in and letting those foreign language class students arrive without missing other instruction at the start of the day.

A second area identified as a challenge was physical education class being held during lunch periods and sharing space with recess.

“We do have two gyms,” Mills noted, dubbed the Orange Gym and the Blue Gym. “But when P.E. was — in the winter months when recess would coincide — they would go to the Blue Gym, so that puts 120 kids in the Orange Gym for P.E. That’s a lot of kids in a little space.

“So getting P.E. off the lunch periods (should alleviate that problem),” he said. “Now, in the winter months, if we want to use both gyms, they’ll be available, but now there are doors from the cafeteria to the Orange Gym, so the kids that want to go a shoot hoops, bump a volleyball, play catch, whatever — they’ll be able to just walk over to the Orange Gym and it won’t interfere with P.E. and what’s going on there.

“That was a huge one,” Mills added of the junior high’s room for improvement in student flow. “It just wasn’t a good situation.”

A third issue noted as a concern was having health instruction during P.E. Mills said that, previously, Wednesdays was a health curriculum day, but now the students will have a quarter of health instruction — utilizing the cafeteria as a classroom — instead of P.E. being interrupted in their schedules every week.

Fourth, the student lunch schedule has been adjusted, the principal explained.

“Previously, the way lunches were set up, the lunch periods were 40 minutes long — 20 minutes, the boys would come in and eat lunch. The girls would go outside. They would flip-flop, so they never got to interact during lunch,” Mills said. “It’s important for the kids in this, developmentally, to be together.

“My hope is that — no, it’s not going to be perfect — but the boys won’t do some of the childish behavior because the girls will be sitting next to them. And, developmentally, they need those interactions,” he added. “They need that. It’s important.”

As part of this change, a new outside area for students is now ready, with metal picnic tables and also giant limestone rocks where students can sit, plus a nearby shade tree. This is located just outside the cafeteria to the west of the door near the stage in that large room.

“When it’s nice, the students will be able to go outside,” Mills said. “I’m excited at what that is going to entail.”

Fifth, junior high leaders were concerned about the essentials class schedule for students. Previously, those in band participated in an hour for band Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; an hour for chorus was held Tuesdays and Thursdays. That meant that, for example, a student participating in band only would have an essential course on Tuesday and Thursday, mixing up the schedules and set of students for the teachers.

“The issue was, the essential teachers — the arts, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and tech — on Mondays they had a different roster, on Tuesdays they had a different roster, because of band and chorus; and then five days a week they’d have certain students who weren’t in band and chorus,” Mills explained. “So it was very confusing.”

To address this, the junior high schedule now makes formerly semester-long classes into year-long courses, for example. Therefore, if one particular student does not have band or chorus, he will go to art on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays the first semester and STEM on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In the second semester, that schedule will flip-flop, Mills explained.

“Across the year, they have the same amount of days,” he said. “The teacher now has a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule, and a Tuesday/Thursday.

“We’re going to try that. Will it be perfect? Probably not. But it’ll be much better.”

Finally, the sixth concern addressed is special education flexibility.

“Because we have teams, we had students who ... follow each other all day long,” Mills explained. If, for example, two of those young people clash, they remain in the same classes all day, every day.

“Now, this year, what’s going to happen is, the kids will be on a team for the majority of the day” but will split and go to a different team for some courses, he said. “It’ll be good, adding that flexibility piece.”

The junior high building itself remains overcrowded, the principal noted. Early figures show that the facility, originally built to accommodate roughly 600 students, will host about 760 pupils for this new school year.