Danica Thompson settles into a couch in the back of Gray Owl Coffee in Norman, where patrons tap away on laptops or read books, surrounded by the smell of freshly-brewed coffee and pastries.
“Mainly, I just have to be out of my house when I study,” she said.
Thompson is an incoming senior at Noble High School. She spends a lot of time at the coffee shop during the school year doing homework, free of the distractions of home.
“Too many little people coming to me, ‘Oh, can you help me make lunch? Can you help me study? Can you help me with my spelling words?’” she said, referencing her three younger siblings.
When Thompson was a sophomore, Noble Public Schools implemented a four-day school week. It was a way for cash-strapped districts to save money during a time of lower state appropriations. Last school year, nearly one-fifth of all Oklahoma public school districts operated on a four-day week.
“Then I thought it was really great,” Thompson said. “Hey, we get an extra day off of school. I didn’t really understand why it was happening.”
Earlier this year, Oklahoma teachers took to the state capitol to demand better pay and more funding for public education, causing a nine-day work stoppage. Similar protests in West Virginia and Arizona have put the spotlight on teacher salaries and school funding, but the media have given less attention to how students feel about these issues.
Thompson isn’t concerned about the effect the shortened weeks will have on her. She considers herself a motivated student. She uses her open Fridays to do homework and work at her part-time job.
But the four-day school week does make Thompson worry about her younger brother, who will be a freshman this year.
“You don’t get Fridays off in the adult world,” she said. “And it could go one of two ways: It could help him rest up and be ready for that, or he could just sweep off his feet when he gets there and just fall flat on his butt.”
Brody Smith, an incoming junior at Noble High, said he likes the four-day weeks overall. They give him flexibility to work on his many extracurricular activities, like Student Council and Business Professionals of America.
“You know, I don’t really get a free day off,” Smith said. “It’s more of a day to work on other things besides school.”
Public education is important to Smith’s family; his dad is Noble’s assistant superintendent, and his mom used to be a school speech pathologist. Smith said even though other nearby districts offer more classes and resources, he would never leave Noble. He said he has a close connection with his teachers, which could be harder to develop in a bigger district.
“Those teachers, they’re doing their best, so I have to do my best so we can accomplish what we can in the short time that we have,” Smith said.
But other students are concerned about their futures. Incoming senior Jake Ross said he wants to study engineering at the University of California at Berkeley.
“I just feel like Noble hasn't really prepared me for that at all,” Ross said.
He worries his classes aren’t rigorous enough, and he fears he’ll have to adapt to drastically different academic conditions in college.
Ross wishes Noble would go back to five-day weeks so he could spend more time in class. But he tries to avoid comparing himself to others as he starts the college admissions process.
“I can try to point out that I took as many options as I could, what was offered to me, and did well with my given options, and try to just not focus on what other people have had access to.”
And that’s a good strategy, according to Joey Williams. Williams is a spokesman for the University of Texas at Austin, Ross’ second-choice school.
“We absolutely care about the broad background of where students are coming from, adversity that they’ve faced, et cetera,” Williams said.
He said UT-Austin admissions officials want to see students enrolled in the most rigorous courses available to them but are sympathetic to applicants’ circumstances.
Sipping her usual vanilla latte in Gray Owl, Danica Thompson said adults should seek students’ opinions more often when making education decisions.
“A lot of times we get discredited because we’re young, and this entire thing is about us, really.”
In spite of the disadvantages, Thompson said she wouldn’t want Noble to go back to a five-day week. She doesn’t want to change her work and study schedules, and she said most students feel the same way.
Mia Mamone is a journalism student at Northwestern University who completed a summer internship at KGOU.
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