BY JULIA KURZ
Playtime, Downtime and Family Time, known to students and faculty as PDF day, was designed by Carmel High School staff members to address the classroom-lunch working culture among students and teachers, yet after a year and a half of its implementation, the verdict on its effectiveness is mixed.
Put into action for the first time last school year by a teacher group championed by Health teacher Leigh Cambra, PDF day was inspired by a conference visited by Cambra about the Stanford Graduate School of Education’s project “Challenge Success.” This group organized around the idea of student social emotional learning, and PDF day at CHS was born from a motto emphasized at the Palo Alto conference: “Playtime, Downtime, Family Time.”
“It gives our teachers a chance to go and see each other, or talk to each other and socialize with their colleagues,” Cambra says. “If a student wants to use that time to do homework, it’s their time, and they can do what they want with it, but you can’t assume that a teacher is going to be there to help you.”
For some students this is a hard pill to swallow.
“I think PDF day has a good idea behind it,” junior Madison Hart says, “but it feels like kind of a waste of time because, for me, I always have tests, and then you can’t go in to ask a question. If it’s cold or raining, too, you’re not allowed to go in teachers’ classrooms.”
Hart takes four AP classes, does 20 hours of dance a week, teaches classes and serves as a board member for the local nonprofit Dance Kids. For Hart, the intended hiatus from the pressure of academic life is more of a stress than a relief.
Sophomores Ruby Maxion and Josie Steiny have a different take on the 30-minute break.
“To be honest I like it because I don’t have to go to class,” Steiny says. Maxion agrees, explaining she likes it because it means more time to socialize.
The freshman class has only experienced two PDF day, one in September and one in December, and for the most part hasn’t formed opinions as to their effectiveness.
“I don’t know what that is,” freshman Nikki Benak says.
This is the case for most freshmen, and Cambra describes a possible reason for this occurrence. PDF day isn’t about scheduling events or advertising a special schedule, she explains. The time is purposefully not scheduled. There aren’t any accompanying activities for a reason. It was designed to be a stress reliever for students, as well as staff, and according to Cambra, overscheduling it would dull the point.
One of the biggest critiques of PDF day made by students and staff is that teachers have to close their doors, or are at least told to do so.
“My teachers’ rooms are the places I go to feel safe,” junior Ashlyn Rossi says. “When you take that away from me I feel completely exposed.”
Senior Maddie Gose goes to her car during the 30 minutes.
“I like it because classes are shorter, and I have more time to not do anything,” Gose says.
For those who don’t experience the benefits the day was designed to generate, Cambra describes the obstacles to encouraging students and teachers to use the time for things other than academics.
“Sometimes we need those reminders too or someone to say, ‘Hey, if you can, go outside and socialize, or open your door, invite students in, but please don’t use this time to make up tests,” Cambra says. “And if you’re going to do that, you’re going to do that, but I don’t want teachers to feel pressure or students to feel pressured that there’s now some time to do that.”
Some students have expressed confusion at the acronym used to name of the event. “Downtime” is pretty self-explanatory, but to some students “Playtime” and “Family Time” prove ambiguous in the overall target of the project. Cambra explains that the name of the event has less to do with a certain target—unscheduled time for students to use to their benefit—than it has to do with the origins of it.
“I always really liked the idea of flex time, and I hoped that PDF day would become a kind of springboard for that to be implemented down the road,” Cambra says. “Flex time is different from ‘Playtime, Downtime, Family Time.’ It is less specific, and it’s really just time to be used in whatever way students see fit. That’s really what we’re trying to do here.”
According to Cambra, the culture at Carmel High tends toward scheduling every minute of every day, rather than leaving open time to be spontaneous: “I hear a lot of ‘I’m bored,’ and I say, ‘Good. Be bored. Learn how to be bored. Learn how to do something with your time.’”