Friday, July 8, 2011

Starting school at 8am or later ...

Okay, so this is a radical idea?  I've seen it work. It's quite pleasant for all involved.

Why not shift the day until later?

The later you start, the later you finish.  If there are limited sports fields, then the coaches need to be more creative in their planning and field rotations.  It creates some problems in late October and November when the light is fading and when playoffs and such have to begin at 3. After school schedules and later finish times mean lots of announcements that "XXX team is dismissed at 1:30", etc.

Students with after-school jobs lose work time. Buses and such need to change, which is occasionally a serious issue. At some VT schools, several towns cooperate with busing and so the high school schedule needs to mesh with that of the elementary schools. All Vermont high schools are affiliated with a Tech Center and send certain kids to it every day, so you have to mesh your bus schedule with that schedule, too.

So that's the bad news.  The good news is that the kids are awake for first period. The whole school is more relaxed. Tardies and absences go down. First period is no longer the yawning wasteland. The students have a better outlook on the day. It's not a panacea but it is like having a cafeteria that can actually cook decent food -- everyone feels better and the school runs better. (It's amazing what good food can do for a school.)

What's the big deal? Why can't kids just get up? What makes them so damn special?  My response is "Nothing."  I do, however, agree that for whatever the reason, my students don't really get going until 8:30 or so and the start time of 7:30 added to a bus for 60 minutes (yes, 60 minutes to go a total of 15 miles. It's very rural Vermont/New Hampshire. Don't ask.) plus 15 minutes to scrape themselves out of bed and shower (please?) means that they are seriously sleepy for first and second period.

Is it giving up? I don't think so. I think it's a matter of accepting reality and working with it, of accepting that the Calvinistic "up at the crack of dawn" thing isn't what teenagers have EVER done willingly, as a rule.

This should not be done as some magical cure-all for raising test scores, though it will probably affect things somewhat.  Since only 4 high schools in Vermont reached AYP last year, and yet we're still considered one of the best states in the country for education,  many places are willing to try anything.

What are the changes? Brattleboro Union High School will push its start time back an hour this fall, to 8:45 am.  The middle and high schools will now let out at 3:20 in the afternoon, pushing athletics back an hour.

Typical start times range from 7:20 a.m at Fall Mountain to 7:55 a.m. at Hinsdale. Bennington started at 7:10 for a couple of years but changed that. The local Catholic schools are typically 8a.m. starts and one of the four schools in Vermont that met AYP last year starts at 8:20 a.m. (It's a coincidence. Come on, people.)

I eagerly await the results.

Here's a pertinent site:

Reposted article:

Brattleboro pushes back high school start time

By Abby Spegman
THE KEENE SENTNEL - Published: July 7, 2011

BRATTLEBORO — Brattleboro Union High School will push its start time back an hour this fall, to 8:45 a.m., giving students more time to sleep in before they hit the books.

Brattleboro Area Middle School, which shares a campus with the high school, will also move its start time back.

“This is something we’ve been looking at probably over five years,” said Ronald L. Stahley, superintendent of the supervisory union that includes the middle and high schools.

A committee of parents, staff and administrators endorsed the moved after reviewing scores of research that show later start times at the high school level can yield better attendance, higher grades and happier kids.

Teens need about nine hours of sleep each night to function best, according to the National Sleep Foundation. But as the body approaches puberty, it starts producing the hormone that causes sleepiness about two hours later, meaning teens may not be able to fall asleep before 11 at night.

“A lot of people said just have the high school kids go to bed earlier, but they’re wired differently,” Stahley said.

The move isn’t without complications. It was delayed because it requires changing bus schedules, which overlap with those for surrounding elementary schools. Start times there will be moved up five to 15 minutes to accommodate the later start time at the middle and high schools.

The middle and high schools will now let out at 3:20 in the afternoon, pushing athletics back an hour. Students with after-school jobs may also lose an hour of work time.

And the Windham Regional Career Center at the high school will also start later, so students from other schools that attend for part of the day will have to adjust their schedules.

But these issues were worth the hour of added sleep, Stahley said.

Compared to Brattleboro, area schools start markedly earlier — 7:20 a.m at Fall Mountain Regional High School in Langdon, 7:30 a.m. at Monadnock Regional High School in Swanzey Center and 7:55 a.m. at Hinsdale High School.

Keene High School classes start at 7:25 a.m. Principal Alan E. Chmiel said administrators have not talked about pushing that back an hour, but he would be open to the move.

“Their clocks don’t turn on till about 8:30,” he said of most students.

Brian S. Pickering, principal at Conval Regional High School in Peterborough, is also intrigued. Classes at Conval start at 7:35 a.m.

“You do hear that from staff, ‘Boy, it takes a lot for me to get them going,’ ” he said.

Pickering said while his school is not considering changing at this time, he is interested to see how the move works out in Brattleboro.

“It would not surprise me if what Brattleboro is doing catches on with others and they take a look at the positive effects (on) student learning,” he said.


  1. Is this standard US practice? If so, that sounds amazingly early. Here in the UK a start time of 8.15 is considered quite early, and frequently you have registration until around 8.40. The school day normally ends at around 3.30.

  2. Yup, it's pretty common in the Northeast.

  3. And it's pretty common elsewhere too. My only concern about later start times is that, due to the 24-availability of cell phones and the internet, kids will just stay up even later at night. In my benighted youth, even TV channels signed off at 11 PM, so it was easier for kids to get to sleep at a reasonable time for getting up between 6 and 7. But I'm all for trying whatever works. Another point: shorter athletic practices would not be a bad thing. 2 hours per day, 5 days per week is a ridiculous escalation of the sports-mania of our schools.

  4. My school starts at 7:50 and they're still tired. When I'm elected World Dictator, school will go from 10-5; let's see how that works out.