Students upset with removal of lab bells

Akshay Vadlamani | The Chronicle

After years of regular lab bells, a major schedule change is underway.

In addition to the existing curriculum, Advanced Placement (AP) Biology and Chemistry students currently take a lab bell, an additional period where teachers host the various labs required of students without interfering with the teaching that happens in class. Due to the extensive nature of the AP Biology and Chemistry curriculums, this bell is both a time for students to do labs and is an established part of the class.

For the 2024-2025 school year, the lab bell is being removed for AP Biology and Chemistry students, meaning teachers must fit the curriculum and any necessary labs into a single class period.

Mason High School (MHS) Assistant Principal Tina Drake said the reason for this change was that given class sizes for Biology and Chemistry rising to alarming levels, the new free bell would allow the AP Biology and Chemistry teachers to teach additional bells and have fewer students in each class.

“Class size has always been a worried concern across content areas,” said Drake. “It’s not just here. I think it’s just teachers everywhere not being able to meet the needs of their students and help students more one-on-one.”

Drake said that having been in the classroom herself, she sees the importance of giving teachers the opportunity to connect with their students more personally and provide more specialized learning.

“When I was teaching, I knew which students I really needed to help, especially if I had a larger class size, but I didn’t have time,” Drake said. “I think students that are used to being in [larger] classes might not even realize the difference of a smaller class and how much more support it adds.”

Because the lab bell has been part of AP Chemistry and Biology for several years, its removal has created backlash and posed a new challenge for teachers to figure out how to teach the curriculum with less time. While teachers understand the reasoning behind why the bell was removed, they still have worries about the future of student experience.

AP Biology teacher Elizabeth Coleman said one concern is that some kids will struggle to compensate for the decrease of time. 

“Students who I would consider middle of the road do better under our current schedule because they need more time to process and ask questions,” Coleman said. “My worry is that these kids will be overwhelmed and I feel bad about that, because they are capable, but the constraints of time and what they’re able to commit becomes restrictive.”

Current AP Chemistry student and junior Ava Leenellet said that the lab bell has provided her with extra time that was crucial to her success in the class. She said that if the lab bell was to be removed, most students like her who have commitments after school may not be able to take such demanding classes without sacrificing activities that they love in order to keep up with the workload.

“Students are going to be more stressed,” Leenellet said. “The work is not all going to get completed because it’s just not realistic to expect that out of a high school student who has other commitments every single night.”

To combat this, AP Biology and Chemistry teachers are building the curriculum next year to accommodate for the lack of a lab bell, in hopes that students who take the class will still receive a comprehensive understanding of the course.

However, AP Chemistry teacher Aimee Hansen said that the supplemental experiences that teachers invest into the classroom experience may have to be minimized in order to fit all the content in. She said that these experiences are important for students to really process information, especially in such a fast-paced class.

“That time in the lab bell leads to collaboration and relation-building between students,” Hansen said. “If we’re going to make our classes leaner, unfortunately, we’re gonna have to cut a lot of these components which are critical for how kids get through this class.”

Former AP Chemistry student and senior Kate Hartley said she  believes that the lab bell is as important as the curriculum itself, and she worries that removing it leaves a window for students to try and pile more upon themselves.

“A lot of people would take a full course load,” Hartley said. “The lab bell forced you to take a break on those days without lab and gave you more time to work on things..”

Despite the removal of the lab bell, AP Chemistry teacher Monica Schneider said  that it is the teachers’ jobs to maintain a consistent experience among students, and ensure that all curriculum is taught. Schneider said future students who take these AP sciences will simply not know the difference in the course structure and that she hopes students can continue to take interest in the classes, whether or not there is a lab bell.

“They don’t know what they haven’t experienced,” Schneider said. “It’s just hard because it’s regular students that could feel a spark in your class that changes their whole path and what they were going to do with their life, which is exactly what we want. That’s why we teach what we teach.”

Visuals by Becca Hunter