Saturday classes creating roadblocks for students, professors

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Media: Zhihao Wu

A Visual and Media Arts class under COVID-19 safety restrictions.

By Dana Gerber, Deputy News Editor

Every weekend, Tim Schwab, a junior, takes the commuter rail home to Shrewsbury, Massachusetts to work as a shift supervisor at Papa Gino’s pizzeria. Shrewsbury is about 40 miles from campus, a 70-minute train ride. His shifts vary, but he typically works six to seven hours on Thursday, 12 hours on Fridays, 10 hours on Saturday and about five hours on Sunday.

So news that classes would be held on Saturdays once each month this semester came as a shock, Schwab said. 

“They just don’t work for me—they’re really inconsistent,” he said. “I’m kind of integral at my work. I work 12-hour shifts, which aren’t really feasible to cover on a short notice.”

Junior Tim Schwab works his weekend job at Papa Gino’s Pizzeria in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. (Media: Courtesy/Tim Schwab)

The adjusted schedule was developed under Emerson’s COVID-era hybrid learning model to ensure classes meet enough times to preserve the college’s accreditation with the New England Commission of Higher Education. Emerson’s Saturday classes may be an effort to make up for the shortened fall semester, which will be cut about a week shorter than usual. 

The proposed spring 2021 calendar has no scheduled Saturday classes. 

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Other accredited local colleges like Boston University and Northeastern University are not holding Saturday classes this semester. Suffolk University has scheduled two optional Saturday make-up days.

But an extra day of classes has come with unforeseen consequences. Schwab, a visual and media arts major, said his professors have been understanding of students’ circumstances, either assigning asynchronous work or canceling the Saturday class altogether after a class survey. He said working on the weekends is essential for him to continue paying for school.      

“Emerson is not the cheapest school,” Schwab, who is saving money to eventually pay off his student loans, said. “I pay to go there Monday through Thursday, and I need these other days to help continue going there Monday through Thursday.”

Some professors, who may need to coordinate their schedules around other work or children, have also struggled to adapt to the added class days. Those faculty have already had their existing schedules disrupted by the pandemic.

Mneesha Gellman, a professor in the Marlboro Institute, had to make her Saturday classes asynchronous because of her obligations at home over the weekends. 

“I have a five and nine-year-old who are in Boston Public School’s online learning program, and have already been struggling to become their elementary school teacher during the week, while also doing my job as a professor,” she wrote in an email to The Beacon. “Since all my other remote teaching is synchronous, it felt like a fair choice to have one session where it wasn’t.”

While some, like Gellman, have elected to hold Saturday meetings asynchronously, others are still holding in-person or online classes.

Academic Affairs has also encouraged professors to find alternative ways to meet with students who can’t make scheduled classes, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Michaele Whelan said in an email to The Beacon.

A number of professors have chosen to hold short one-on-one meetings with students for the scheduled Saturday classes rather than a typical class session. 

Betsy Schneider, a VMA professor, opted for this route after scheduling a field trip to the Arnold Arboretum for the first Saturday class session, which only two students were able to attend. 

“I just thought [the individual meetings were] more valuable, and they could fit it into their schedule better,” Schneider said. 

Schneider said communication and flexibility are paramount during this stressful period.

“It helps the students if the faculty is like, ‘We can work with you,’” she said.

As students are not used to Saturday classes, some have struggled to remember when they are scheduled. Brianna Maloney, a junior who is a part-time manager at an American Eagle Outfitters in Cambridge and typically works every Saturday, said the college should be making an effort to explicitly remind students when the additional classes are scheduled.

Junior Brianna Maloney (middle) with two of her coworkers at American Eagle Outfitters. (Media: Courtesy/Briana Maloney)

“They should send out some sort of update, in my opinion, to be like, don’t forget this month, or next week, there’s a Saturday class,” she said. “I do think that it is negligent.”

She said she hasn’t had to move a shift yet because her Saturday classes have been asynchronous assignments, but she recounted the “mad scramble” of texting her manager to warn her she may not be able to work. 

While she said her professors have been sympathetic to students’ weekend obligations, such as jobs, on-set time or interviews, she said her professors often don’t acknowledge the Saturday classes in advance. This has left her emailing them to find out the plan for class and hoping  they respond quickly. 

“The fact that I potentially would lose an entire six-hour shift—that’s horrifying to me,” Maloney, who is saving to have her laptop repaired, said. “It’s very playing it fast and loose, and there are students who just cannot afford to do that.” 

Deputy Express Editor Charlie McKenna did not edit this article due to a conflict of interest.