One subject that keeps coming up, whether I’m in the grocery store or out on the soccer fields is start and end times for our schools. Many families are curious about our current thinking and whether we will pursue any kind of schedule change after we determined last spring (thanks to valuable feedback from families and staff) that our most recent start and end times proposal needed additional refinement.
The quick answer is yes, we’re still looking at start and end times. How we do it and how we get there is not yet determined.
Every time I read an article like this one in the Seattle Times or this one in Education Week, I feel a pull, a strong sense of responsibility to figure out a way to allow our teenage students, in particular, to start school later. The Ed Week article quoted a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics that said secondary schools should start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. “Studies show that adolescents who don’t get enough sleep often suffer physical and mental-health problems, an increased risk of automobile accidents, and a decline in academic performance,” the organization said in a position paper. “But getting enough sleep each night can be hard for teens whose natural sleep cycles make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m.—and who face a first-period class at 7:30 a.m. or earlier the next day.”
These articles help me remember that we are not alone in this conversation and that school districts all over our country have the same hurdles: transportation-related constraints, parents’ work schedules, after-school activities, and concerns of full nights of sleep for all our students, PreK- 12.
We also continue to look at ways to offer more electives at both high and middle school. We have strong energy to invest in world language, art, music and STEM, which are efforts I fully support, but our current schedules do not allow enough flexibility. For example, an eighth grader can currently enroll in a world language and music class, but only if he/she waives physical education. In our strategic plan, The Bellingham Promise, we commit to developing healthy, active individuals, as well as multilingual readers and writers and artists and performers. We need to figure out a way to balance all of these important subjects and passions for our students.
We polled all of our high school students last year, and many expressed an interest in more time for electives and more diverse choices, but resisted the idea of lengthening the school day. I’d love to chalk that up to teenage reasoning, but we all have so many inconsistencies of what we want for our school schedules, whether it’s more choices, greater flexibility, young children needing to start later, teenagers sleeping in (but don’t dismiss them too late!). And so on…
No matter what we decide as a community, this work is hard and involves tough choices. It’s also worth acknowledging that there really is no “perfect” schedule.
One idea that is emerging is to start elementary schools at 8 a.m. Last spring, we heard from families that 7:45 a.m. was too early. I wonder if 15 minutes would make a difference.
The Ed Week article addresses a concern I heard about last spring when we introduced the idea of having elementary students go to school earlier and high school later: “lazy teenagers” and forcing them to go to bed earlier. It’s a little more complicated. See the section labeled “Lazy Teenagers.” 🙂
As always, I look forward to your feedback.