Students Tuning Out Homeroom

by Timaya Pulliam ‘23

During the 2019-2020 school year, MCPS began Be Well 365, a comprehensive program that focuses on the social, psychological, and physical well-being of students. This concern for students’ mental health and well-being became even more of a point of emphasis when students went through a year of virtual learning during the pandemic.

As a way to fulfill the Be Well 365 initiative, Sherwood schedules planned instruction during a homeroom period every other Thursday that largely is intended to help students learn more about working towards being a better person for themselves, others, and the community. Although these homerooms clearly are well intended, many students find them overall ineffective and have stopped paying attention to the lessons. A Warrior survey of 210 Sherwood students through their English classes found that more than 60 percent report that they never or not often pay attention during homeroom period.

“I usually use my phone or talk to my friends. Sometimes, it seems like a waste of time to have a homeroom lesson that doesn’t change anything,” said junior Andrew Papalia. Freshman Lucy Crompton agrees and, though she usually does what is asked of her in homeroom period, she “puts little effort into it.”

Many of the lessons in homeroom are required with some content produced by MCPS and some created by Sherwood’s counseling department, according to counselor Kelly Singleton.
“The counseling department [is] required to do grade-level Naviance lessons, personal body safety lessons, signs of suicide, and other county-mandated lessons,” said Singleton. “For the Signs of Suicide and Personal Body Safety lessons, we are given the lessons by the county. For the Naviance lessons, we create our own presentations but the Naviance tasks are required.” Singleton says that the counseling department works together to tweak lessons provided by Central Office as long as the lessons still fit the intended parameters set forth by MCPS.

In addition to topics presented by counseling, Media Specialist Stephanie Flaherty and the school administration create lessons for topics mandated by MCPS to show students. Flaherty must “facilitate” three lessons to all grades about digital citizenship. Each year, the information given by the county does not change, making the lessons seem repetitive. “It is ‘strongly recommended’ that I use the pre-built lessons developed by Common Sense Media. I do not. I have been able to develop my own materials based … around the topics they expect to be taught,” said Flaherty. “It’s not easy to re-work some of the material because the topics themselves for the most part do not change.”
The important topics discussed in the homeroom period are ignored by a significant number of students who are on their phones, sleeping, or walking aimlessly through the hallways. Several students agree that homeroom is not engaging to them, especially when they have other work that occupies their time. “Classes can be annoying because they assign so much homework, which can be stress-inducing … That is why I think homeroom should be used as a study hall,” said senior Thomas Robinson.

Social Studies teacher Caitlin Thompson wishes that homeroom was taken more seriously but is not able to always gauge why students are not participating in homeroom lessons as she cannot create relationships by only seeing students once every few weeks. “Personally, it is much more challenging to monitor [student] behavior in homeroom … [because] I don’t know them the same way as the students that I see every day,” explained Thompson. “I feel it is much harder to stop those behaviors [even though] they are bad for the climate of the school.”

Singleton recognizes that the way homeroom lessons are presented is not ideal, but still believes that they may be necessary for those students who need them. “I understand that students may find it repetitive, but if it helps connect even one student with resources that could help them, then I believe it is worthwhile,” she said. Singleton and the rest of the counseling department are open to feedback and ideas for homeroom presentations.

Thompson also believes that input from students is essential for encouraging students to participate in homeroom and meet the aims of Be Well 365. “This is a great opportunity for student leadership like the countywide SGA or individual student leaders to come in and make updates,” said Thompson. “Maybe seniors’ activities on homeroom days are adding or making a video so that each year the presentation is a little bit different and has voices from [Sherwood’s] building … This will ensure that [students] will still get the information but will also give kids direct investment.”