Remember back in middle school, when you looked forward to high school preps as an entire period to do whatever you wanted? Free time, unlimited food, the ability to go home and take a nap… The opportunities preps seemed to offer were unending. But what are preps really meant for? With an open campus, access to school resources (and Town and Country), and a considerable chunk of time three days every week, how are students actually using these four hours of freedom?
According to sophomore guidance counselor Susan Shultz, preps are a time that should be solely set aside for studying. The premise of a preparatory period is to prepare for upcoming classes, get work done ahead of time.
But as Josh Goldstein, Paly’s athletic trainer, says, preps are only helpful when used efficiently and effectively.
“Whether you end up taking an extended lunch or whether you actually sit down and do your homework during that period is up to the students and how well they want to take advantage of it,” Goldstein says.
Not all students use their preps to do homework, meet with teachers, and study ahead. In a survey conducted by Verde of 237 Paly students in nine English classes distributed throughout January and February, 31 percent of juniors with a prep say that they often use it for socializing.
According to Mona Siegel, Paly’s academic technology specialist, a little less than half of Paly students have a prep, or blank period, in their schedule, whether that be because they dropped a class, do a seasonal sport, or signed up for an empty period. About 51 percent of underclassmen have a prep some time during the year: 70 percent of these result from playing a school sport and 15 percent are from zero period P.E.
“It’s typical for older students to have a prep because their curriculum becomes more rigorous,” Shultz adds. “It would be hard to take seven rigorous courses and not have any study time during the day.”
Administrators often recommend that upperclassmen take preps to minimize overcommitment, but emphasize that the decision always relies on the student’s individual circumstances, including workload and extracurriculars, according to Shultz.
Senior guidance counselor Charles Taylor says rarely do administrators discourage students from taking a prep.
“If we are encouraging someone not to take a prep, it’s usually because they have to make something up or are not utilizing it properly,” Taylor says.
Most of the time, preps are used efficiently. Fifty six percent of Paly students said that they use their prep to do homework, and about 17 percent of them said that they use it to sleep.
In fact, students with preps are getting more sleep than students without preps — of the students surveyed, sophomores with a prep got an average of 54 more minutes of sleep per night than those without. According to the National Sleep Foundation, eight to nine hours of sleep a night are crucial for teens ages 11 to 17 to stay focused throughout the day.
But as Goldstein says, in the end, it all comes down to the student to utilize preps as they see fit. They simply must remember that their preps are time during which they can even out their workload, if used efficiently.
“You’ve got to balance your life, not just your classes,” college advisor Sandra Cernobori says. “Colleges are looking for you to have a life outside of your classes, too.”