GRAPHIC BY YUEN TING CHOW
Despite the myriad of classes offered at the high school, certain courses often draw highly concentrated student interest. For this reason, waitlists have been used to help students enroll in popular courses.
However, waitlists can also have adverse impacts on learning and contribute to equity disparities.
Some students, while waiting for a spot to open in their first choice class, may not commit to the class which they would give up in exchange, according to Coordinator of Guidance and Counseling Darby Neff-Verre.
“The student is supposed to be attending every day, doing the work, assuming that they’re in the class. But if they’re thinking that there’s a possibility that they may be moved, it really has a negative educational impact on the student diving into the first week of school and getting settled in,” Neff-Verre said.
When a student actually gets a spot in their coveted class, the expectations to make up work that they missed in addition to keeping up with new material adds to the stress of late entrance into a class.
“It takes huge amounts of time and energy, in addition to all the other stressors,” Neff-Verre said. “In terms of mental health and anxiety in this building, it seems like a set up for students to hit a wall in a way that just doesn’t feel right for me.”
According to guidance counselor Nicole Bent, the waitlist system tends to skew towards students who advocate for themselves more often.
“If you don’t get a class on your schedule, some kids might look at that and not think twice about it. Some kids will be like, ‘I requested Fiction and Film, but I got Brit Lit instead — what do I need to do to get Fiction and Film?’” Bent said. “They’ll go to their counselor and maybe even the department head to get on a waitlist.”
The courses with waitlists are typically specialty classes offered for upperclassmen, especially seniors. To minimize the use of waitlists, Science Curriculum Coordinator Ed Wiser advises students to enter alternates when requesting courses for the upcoming school year.
“It’s hard for you to know if there is going to be more than one section of specialty science classes. Generally, we have more than one section of AP biology or anatomy, for example. Usually, students get satisfied with that, but it’s hard for them to know,” Wiser said.
Although some students may not be content with their scheduled courses, the computerized scheduling system maximizes student requests in most situations.
“It’s actually called fuzzy math when the computer comes up with the best possible solution for as many kids as possible,” Wiser said. “But because there are so many choices that seniors can make, it’s harder for every single one to work out the way kids want it.”
A large component of scheduling occurs during the summer, when multiple iterations of master schedules are developed and evaluated by the administration, curriculum coordinators and guidance counselors.
“We’ve pushed pretty hard to be able to come in and look at some of the draft master schedules. Many of the counselors have a pretty great eye for combinations of classes that might be a problem,” Neff-Verre said. “They’ve worked here long enough that it’s like putting a big puzzle together.”
Sometimes, conflicts in students’ schedules may be minimized at the expense of teachers.
“This year, Mr. Mason had to make a switch for one of my classes because there was no room at the end for physics. So, one teacher has to teach physics in a chemistry room way down the hall,” Wiser said.
Conversations between students and their guidance counselors regarding course requests can also help to limit the use of waitlists and the detrimental impacts of late entrance into a class.
“Ultimately, it’s the student’s choice,” Neff-Verre said. “That’s empowering, but it’s helpful to have somebody who knows you and who sees the whole picture to be able to say, ‘You know what, let’s talk this out a little bit. If you decide to go this route, go this route, but be careful.’”