Menlo’s curriculum is challenging: classes are difficult and workloads are almost always heavy. Many students also do extracurricular activities on top of their schoolwork or have familial obligations. The Menlo student body is involved in all sorts of athletics, arts, volunteer opportunities, leadership positions on campus and more, so balancing their interests with their academic work is vital to success.
Students have a lot of choice in their course load, especially as they move forward in their high school careers. Taking a free period is one of those options. A free period is an unscheduled block that students can use as a study hall, for meetings, or to relax. It can add a much needed balance to their rigorous schedules, but in a competitive school environment like Menlo, taking a free period can also be stigmatized.
Often, Menlo can feel like a competition between who has the most difficult schedule or who has more activities to juggle. The nature of success in Silicon Valley and the ever-competitive college admissions process are partially to blame, but students participate in it as well.
I remember feeling a weird sense of pride in not taking one this year. I thought: “look at me, my schedule is hard and I’m not doing anything to lessen that load for myself.” I took one as a sophomore and it often felt like I had to justify taking it, both to myself and other students. I always felt the need to provide a laundry list of reasons why I absolutely needed to take it and often felt guilty for doing so. At the end of my sophomore year, I felt like it had been a waste of time, a space that I should have filled with an easy class to boost my GPA.
In reality, I used my free period. It was an extra hour to catch up or get ahead on work and it significantly lowered my stress. And when I just needed a break, my free period served as that as well.
My sophomore year free period was not a waste of my time or a faulty strategic move; rather, it was an important piece that I needed for my well-being. I enjoy many of my classes this year, and I don’t know which one I would sacrifice in order to take a free period, but I most likely would have benefited from one greatly. The stress and workload of junior year is notorious: it’s filled with SATs, ACTs, extracurriculars and future planning. A few extra hours a week to catch up or to relax would have been beneficial. It would not have removed all my stress, but could have at least diminished some of it.
Despite my sophomore year self believing that I would be a better student or more qualified college applicant without a free period, now as my junior year comes to a close, I know that not taking one is not going to change how college admissions goes for me and really only increased my stress.
A free period can be a really positive choice, a choice that can lower stress levels and benefit a student’s academic achievement. Students should take them because they want to, and the stigma around them needs to end. The Menlo community needs to recognize that a free period does not indicate a lazy or weak student, it indicates a student who is empowered in what they want and need from their academic career.