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Some high school students call on TDSB to scrap 'mentally and physically draining' quadmesters

·4 min read
Some students are fighting against the return of the quadmester learning model next year at the Toronto District School Board. They say the condensed schedules  are leading to mental health issues and information overload for students. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Some students are fighting against the return of the quadmester learning model next year at the Toronto District School Board. They say the condensed schedules are leading to mental health issues and information overload for students. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

Some secondary students in Canada's largest school board are calling for the elimination of quadmesters, saying the condensed schedules are leading to mental health issues and information overload for students.

"I hate this quadmester model because I love learning, and this model totally strips us students of that," said Hannah Cohen, a Grade 11 student at Earl Haig Secondary School in North York.

Cohen, a senior in the school's dance program, says quadmesters have been detrimental both academically and socially since they were implemented last year by the Ministry of Education to limit contact between students. She says they've also disrupted the balance between social life and education that she says comes with regular semesters.

So when the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) announced on Wednesday that it would continue with quadmesters for secondary students for the 2021-2022 academic year, Cohen launched an online petition to fight it.

"Learning in quadmesters is mentally and physically draining," reads the petition titled "TDSB Families Fight Back Against Quads," which has racked up nearly 1,800 signatures of support as of Friday night.

"We are not able to properly learn and digest the information provided in our courses in such a brief period of time ... Students are not learning; we are just merely memorizing information," the petition says.

This petition calls on the TDSB to adopt semesters for the upcoming school year.

'Learning at warp speed'

The quadmester system splits the school year into four periods to allow smaller cohorts to attend class in person. Instead of four courses taken during two semesters, two courses are taken across four quadmesters. This means courses that used to be taught over the span of five months are now being taught in about nine weeks.

"Teachers are basically blurting out information at us during our classes because they have so little time to get this information across to us," Cohen said.

Monika Ferenczy, an education consultant based in Ottawa, calls it "learning at warp speed, because it really puts an enormous amount of pressure on the students to absorb a lot of content very quickly."

Ferenczy says students are being taught one thing in the morning and are already being tested on it the following day. She says she has seen an increase in students with high anxiety and depression, and many others asking for modifications to timelines that can often not be accommodated.

In response to students' concerns over the quadmester workload, a spokesperson for the TDSB says the amount of work isn't that different because a student is essentially learning two fewer courses at a time than in a typical academic semester.

Jason Wong, left, and Hannah Cohen, right, are both seniors a Earl Haig Secondary School who are fighting against the return of quadmesters. They say the learning model negatively affects students' academic performance and mental health.
Jason Wong, left, and Hannah Cohen, right, are both seniors a Earl Haig Secondary School who are fighting against the return of quadmesters. They say the learning model negatively affects students' academic performance and mental health. (Submitted by Jason Wong/Hannah Cohen)

But the essence of the quadmester system is to cram a bunch of information together at once, according to Jason Wong, who is in Grade 11 and is the student body president at Earl Heights Secondary School.

"Let's assume we have two academic subjects at once — math and biology. That's a lot of work and time spent on those subjects. When we're working on that, we are working around the clock memorizing that material," Wong said.

He says students are left racing to learn the material before they move on to a different subject, which is forcing many to stay up all night to cram, which subsequently affects students' sleep schedules and their mental health.

Cohen and Wong, both of whom are students in the arts, say they also lack down time to practise their majors under this model. They add that mental health resources provided by the TDSB, such as links to access professional support services staff, fall short of what kids need.

Cohen says she wants the impact that the quadmester has on students' mental health to be acknowledged and for the TDSB to move forward with a semester system next year.

"We are not robots; we want our lives back," Wong added.

Quadmesters 'not great' for some students, TDSB admits

The TDSB says it acknowledges the quadmester model is not for everyone and that there is mixed reaction to it.

"We realize for some, the quadmester model is not great, we know that. However, we're taking direction from the Ministry of Education," said TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird. He says the decision is about trying to keep people safe.

Despite Ontario's vaccine supply ramping up and youths eligible to book a vaccine appointment by June, the ministry has required all school boards to limit schedules to two in-person classes, which for the TDSB, results in a quadmester model to limit student-to-student contacts.

"We continue to explore ways to improve it," Bird said of the learning model.

"Our hope, however, is that with vaccinations over the summer and those numbers hopefully going up, that we are going to be as close to normal as possible come September."

Bird adds that it is important to note that the ministry says it will look into changing the model depending on how the pandemic evolves.

"Given the unpredictability of what COVID-19 will look like in September...we need to be flexible," Bird said.

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