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.

Comments (69)

  • I support the idea of starting high school later. I appreciate the district trying to include parent and community ideas, feedback and discussion, since they are the taxpayers. I also understand that families have their reasons for not wanting elementary school to start early. but in 5-6 years when they have high schoolers they might think differently. Young students are so ready to go in the morning, why not take advantage of that too? If the professional educators in our district decide, based on current, valid scientific research, that this is best for all kids, then can’t it be a “top down” decision?

    • Thank you for the discussion and requesting feedback. I believe you will not get as much of a backlash from an 8 a.m. start time as the 7:45 proposal. In truth it will be a challenge for my family to get there by 8 a.m. as well. (if there was any way to get to 8:15..?) I am willing though to take on this sacrifice if we have later start times in middle and high school. The high school start time is shockingly early. The sooner you are able to resolve this issue the better.
      I would LOVE more electives especially language for our kids. Not surprised that the kids do not want a longer day a school. Though for us, we work until 5, We are always needing to add an after school activity or child care at this point. One or two longer days a week for the benefit of an elective seems reasonable.

      • Thanks for your comment. We could do 8:15 am for elementary, but that might be tricky if it’s our earliest start. One of the most complicating factors is transportation. It currently takes about 45 minutes between levels, which is why each start is 45 minutes after the other (7:45 for high, 8:30 for elementary and 9:15 for middle). But as others have pointed out, there are other options like putting two levels on the same bus run, utilizing WTA or even figuring out a different transportation funding source (ex. tax).

        And that’s an interesting idea about longer days even one or two days a week to allow our students more elective choices. Everything is on the table right now, and I agree that the sooner we figure this out the better.

        Thanks again for taking the time to provide your feedback!

    • I really agree with this. Isn’t it about what’s best for our kids? For their future? Four our future when they graduate and become the working class and leaders in our country. You can’t make everyone happy. There will always be conflicts with parents’ work schedules no matter what school schedule you implement. The current schedule surely presents conflicts but people have figured out how to make it work. Given budgetary constraints, we need to figure out how to stretch every penny a little further. Please let’s not be selfish about what’s most convenient for us the parents and our lifestyles at the expense of our children’s education. It will only hurt us all in the end.

      The Bellingham Pledge would ring hollow if we invested heavily in more buses, bus drivers, service crew, annual fuel and maintenance, etc. instead of putting the money toward more teachers, facilities and educational resources. I’m very much in favor of your most recent start and end times proposal from last spring. It’s fiscally responsible and improves our kids’ educational opportunities. It’s unfortunate when the right decision becomes such a tough decision.

      • Thank you for taking the time to offer your perspective. It’s true, we can’t make everyone happy. And it is absolutely what is best for our kids. Thank you for reinforcing that point.

        And thank you for bringing up the Bellingham Promise. When I get stuck on an issue, conflict or answer, I find it’s incredibly helpful to look at our Promise (I say “ours” meaning we all own it. This community, our staff, families, kids, etc.). We believe all children should be loved. We will empower every child to discover and develop a passion. Together we can achieve more than alone.

        We need to find a start and end time plan that helps fulfill our Promise for students of all ages and at all levels, then work hard (as adults) to make the rest fit with the realities of our lives (i.e. work schedules).

        I really appreciate your comment.

    • We are early risers so the proposed 7:45 elementary start time actually worked well for us but I understand why it presented issues for so many families. 8:00 am work almost as well and while it is only 15 minutes later than the originally proposed time, it is only 30 minutes earlier than the current 8:30 time. I think it is a good compromise assuming it allows for enough time change at the high school level to meet or come close to meeting the recommendations there. We have 3 elementary schoolers right now and while change is always a challenge, I know that in time, this will benefit all of us.

      • hi Andrew, thank you for your comment. Yes, we’re all about trying to do what’s best for students while also tweaking our plans (when and if we can) to best accommodate families and staff and their needs (7:45 vs. 8 vs. 8:30).

        And thank you for acknowledging that while change is hard, we want all students to benefit from our new start/end time plan.

        Good luck with those three elementary schoolers! Thanks again for your input.

    • Thanks for the comment, and yes, we sometimes do make decisions that may not feel popular, but that we think are the truly in the best interest of our students. An example of this is shifting to full day kindergarten. At first, there was resistance among some families who thought their children only needed/wanted to be in kindergarten a few days a week. But based on great research in early childhood, we decided offering free full-day K was the direction we wanted to go. It’s definitely a balance. And I agree that it can be hard to see or understand what your child will be going through several years down the road. We all need to try to work together to see the big picture on this one. If we only look at our own specific interests, schedules, etc., it gets hard to move forward. Thank you so much for your input.

  • In addition to sleep schedules, working parents can benefit as they can get their elementary age kids to school and still get to work at a a reasonable time. Most HS students are able to get to a bus on time or drive or ride a bike to school. This absolutely is not the case with Elementary and MS students.

    • Hi Jim, Thanks for the comment. Good point that our youngest students need/benefit from families helping them get out the door and to school on time. For many families that work at 8 am, an earlier elementary start time could be a real benefit. I heard from a school just on Friday that they had a dozen cars lined up before 8 am waiting for the school doors to open. Thanks again for taking the time to offer feedback!

  • I think an 8-8:15 start works for elementary school, most working parents need earlier start time to drop child at school and head to work. Middle school start works for us as my son can sleep extra hour then get on bike to ride to school. Later start for high school seems a no brainier, teenagers stay up later so 7:45 start is a struggle. Older kids can manage the later departure time due to earlier darkness around here.

    • Thanks for your input. I agree that a later start for high school seems like a no brainer. It’s when we start pulling back the layers that it gets more complicated. But I definitely agree with your sentiment and it’s true that most could manage getting to school on their own (better than our younger students). Thanks again for the comment!

  • The bottom line is you are never going to make everyone happy on this issue. However, you need to also take into consideration the fact that if you start Elementary school students earlier, and HS students later, this causes a problem with childcare as a lot of families whose parents(single or married) work outside the home and rely on the older siblings to be there for the younger siblings. It is already a nightmare with the Middle school students not getting off the bus until almost 4:30pm in some areas. This also causes a problem for those who have jobs or participate in after school activities, not only within the district, but with other schools who do not share the same schedule we do.
    Please make sure to take that into consideration when you change the schedule.

    • Great point. Thank you for your comment. It’s true that a nice benefit of having our older students dismiss earlier is that they can help with childcare for younger siblings. And yes, we definitely calculate the earliest bus pick up and the latest bus drop off when we dig deeper into start and end times.

  • All three levels of school should start at the same time, and end at the same time. 8:30 -3:00. No extra monthly days off, no more half days. Get out at the beginning of June. So many wasted days. Buy more buses! One for high, middle and elementary. So the bus people are not running all around town delivering every level school child. That way parents who work will know that their high or middle school child will be home approximately at same time as their elementary school kid, if they don’t have any clubs or sports to attend. Simplify. Yes teachers should have one hour prep during the day and two hours after school. If they wish an hour before school. I don’t want anymore PC on money, and union stuff, and contracts. Get rid of the teachers union. It makes it not fun to teach anymore with all this” other ” stuff getting in the way of simple teaching. Be more responsible with the money. If you want to be “green” stop giving the exact same papers to all siblings. Wasted paper! I only need one set, not three. And Government wonders why homeschooling is on the rise. Parents voices are not being heard. To much Political correctness in this state! No more 7:30 high school start time!! Way to early. Listen to the Dr. articles and parents. Sorry that is my rant and feel pretty strongly about it.

    • While I would love the simplicity of that, the solution is TOO simplistic. First, Buy more buses? This cost big bucks. And then, if all of the buses were running at the same time, there would also have to be more bus drivers. More bucks – as it costs more to employ multiple folks than one person for the same hours (due to insurance and benies). Also, the current bus drivers would not be able to work as many hours, so not you have made them underemployed. More buses is is not an easy solution to the problem.

      Get rid of the teacher’s union? I don’t think this would be better for our students in the long run. Teachers union help teachers, teachers help students. I’m not a big proponent of trickle-down theory, but here it applies. Good reading if you are interested:

      On your Paperwork point, I completely agree. Not sure how to implement it, but I would love to see it ALL happen paperless.

      And as for start times, I would be happy to see my Kindergartner (at Roosevelt Elem) start at 8am. And I’d love to see her start later in High School. Great article links, Dr. Baker! Thank you.

    • Don’t be sorry. I like hearing what people think, and I know a lot of people feel really strongly about start and end times. That’s what makes this all so complex. I’ll do my best to respond to a few of your points. “Buy more buses!” Well… if it was only that easy. While I would love to create more consistency with our schedules, it’s very expensive when we start talking about additional buses, staffing, storage and maintenance. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it’s not as easy as one might first think. Our early dismissal days and “staff learning days” are determined in the bargaining process with our teachers association (which is separate from our process to determine start/end times). Our current contract with the Bellingham Education Association (BEA) ensures that our teachers have set time throughout the school year for professional development, teacher/parent conferences, collaboration and planning. There’s a lot of value for both the teaching and learning in our system. Our calendar I believe is actually one of the best, if not the best, in the state, as the staff learning days are in addition to a 180 days of school with kids present. Many districts reduce the number of days students are in school in order to ensure time for professional development and staff collaboration. Thanks again for your comment.

  • As parent of both high and elementary school students – yes, the early start times, exacerbated by school bus departure times even earlier, are a significant health issue for HS students. My sophomore’s doctor assures me that kids her age should be sleeping 9-10 hours per night, but even though she diligently tries to get by 9 so she can get up rested at 6, that doesn’t necessarily work out that way. By the end of the week, she is drained from just a little bit of sleep deprivation accumulating night after night.

    That is one of two significant health issues forced on her by administrative convenience – the other is that 24# backpack (weighed at the beginning of the school year, before she had even accumulated a bunch of notes in her binders). Schools all over the country seem to be able to provide lockers for their students, but BHS doesn’t.

    The Bellingham Pledge rings hollow when there are hundreds of kids who are facing non-trivial health issues as a routine part of being a student. And it’s needless – transportation issues could be solved by replacing school bus routes for high schoolers with WTA passes for neighborhoods where that’s a possibility (for BHS, with a little coordination with WTA, that should work rather nicely). Lockers or electronic textbooks would solve the packmule issue. There’s a lot of really great stuff happening in the District – shall we take it a step further and look for some common sense solutions for these issues?

    • Love these suggestions, Andreas! Particularly, what a great idea of using our WTA buses to supplement the school buses. Have WTA and school officials ever sat down in a room and tried to hammer out a plan? Seems worth a try! I worried about early high school start times even when my own two kids were in elementary school. I am now in my seventh year of parenting a sleep-deprived teen. The research is clear: high schools need to start later.

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment. I’m glad the idea to start later for high school students resonates with you. We have had some great conversations with WTA and we will continue to explore options with them. Currently, their schedule and routes don’t match our needs, but yes, it’s a good idea and I appreciate the suggestion. As for the backpack issue, we are looking to put a technology levy on the ballot in Feb. that would help us provide a technology device (like a laptop or tablet) for all students in grades 6 to 12 for both classroom and take-home use. Our hope and plan is that eventually the need to carry textbooks would diminish as we get better access to online texts books and software. It’ll take us a few years to get there (if the levy passes), but I think your comment is a good one. The “pack mule issue” as you call it needs to be resolved. Thanks again for your feedback!

  • Have the High School & Elementary school students share a bus. The High school students in Bellingham seem to be very mature & could handle the shared bus. The Bellingham School district could also provide WTA passes for the High School students if the WTA route was an overlap of the current Bellingham school district route.

    • Yes, we did talk about including more than one level on a bus at a time. That’s certainly a possibility, but would require more buses and drivers. And yes, we are continuing to talk and explore ideas with WTA. Currently, their routes and schedules don’t quite fit our needs, but we’re continuing to explore that as a possible option. Thanks for the feedback.

  • It would be great if you could find a way to start and end everyone at the same time. I think this would solve a lot of problems for families. It may require some creative problem-solving in terms of bussing etc. but I think it could be worth it in the long run.

    • How would you pick up your elementary schooler and your middle schooler at the same time? Not all the kids are bussed.

    • Thanks for the comment. I would love to start and end everyone at the same time! The challenge is it would take a huge number of additional buses, which means not only more buses, but more parking lots to park the buses, and then huge challenges finding more drivers, who would each work fewer hours, which would likely make it even more challenging to find drivers.

      Transportation is certainly one of the biggest considerations for our school start and end times. We currently stagger our schedules in 45-minute increments to allow our drivers time to pick up and drop off students at each level efficiently and dependably (meaning, they’re on time and our kids are on time). Thanks for the input. It’s valued!

  • I appreciate all that you do! As far as start and end times, they are working OK for our family.

    I actually want to comment on the full days and half days off. The weeks when there is a half-day on Thursday and a day off on Friday are very difficult for our family.
    For the kids, it’s hard for them to get into a routine, and by the time they are back in the swing of school, the week is over! And… it seems to me that precious little learning gets done on the Thursday morning.
    And the parents, especially working parents, they have to contend with childcare on an erratic schedule which is complex to arrange. I suppose it is convenient for wealthy families who would prefer a long weekend to go out of town with their families, but it doesn’t really work for the rest of us. I would rather have the school day end at the same time every day.

    Thanks for listening!

    • What a great comment…appreciation as well as a request to improve. Thank you.
      The whole calendar question is complex and better to discuss in person with dialogue (which I am happy to do). In the mean time, a few additional thoughts:

      In a perfect world, I agree with you. Routines can be extremely helpful to kids, parents, everyone. So if we could eliminate wacky weeks, early dismissals, etc… I get it. 🙂

      Until the point though that we make the time kids are in school equal to the time their parents are working, and until we ensure teachers have enough time to do all they need to do to effectively teach our kids, we will always have this tension. Currently the state only pays teachers to work 180 days (they actually don’t fully do this, but you get the point). And they mandate kids be in schools 180 days. If teaching was a simple task, we would be ok. But it is not; it requires time to plan, assess, meet with parents, train and develop, learn new materials/methods, etc.

      Since the state does not pay for time to do all these things, it is up to districts to figure out how to carve out the time. They can either not do much, and live with the results, or they can be creative. Common strategies including early dismissals (we have actually dramatically reduced the number of early dismissals at middle and high schools), reducing the number of days students are in school (we used to do this; some districts for example have students come only 174 days giving teachers days to work), and pulling teachers out of the classroom and fill them with substitutes (this is something we have done in the past and are trying to reduce…we want our “A” Team in the classrooms with our kids).

      Our Friday staff learning days are basically taking days from the summer and inserting them into the school year. So the number of days families need to find childcare is not any different, they are just during the year vs the summer. I get though, that this can add additional complexity.

      We have worked hard to actually increase instructional time for kids. Over the last six years, we have lengthened the elementary school day. So even though one day is shorter (early dismissal), the overall time kids are in school has increased. We also have moved to full-day kindergarten. Combine that with a reduced number of early dismissals at the middle and high school, as well as eliminating all the early dismissals we used to have around Thanksgiving…you get the picture.

      I asked some staff the other day about eliminating all early dismissals if we could find the resources (it will require hiring more teachers if we eliminate the early dismissal), and it was amazing how valuable so many staff find that time.

      In summary, while there are lots of nuances and complexities, I get your point: simplify the calendar, build more consistency and eliminate early dismissals. 🙂

  • All schools on the same schedule. PLEASE! I know it means money. It means more buses, more drivers. Tricky logistics. But we have got to figure it out.

    I have two in elementary and one in middle. In a few years, I will have one in elementary, two in middle and one in high school. I can’t imagine how we will balance our lives if things are as they are today. Not only the staggered start and end times, but then the differences in early dismissal times, days off… it’s a mess and a working parent’s nightmare. Even a plan to add a few buses each year starting NOW so we can get there down the road. I know it can’t happen overnight. But there HAS to be a way. Fundraisers. I would pay extra in taxes somewhere to make it happen because it just makes sense from a family standpoint.

    If more buses are an absolute NO, then we need more affordable before and after school options for our kids. If the school district forces us to make crazy accommodations with these schedules, then they could help by providing solutions such as before and after school programs for at least elementary and middle school kids. Something that allows them to end up done at the same time and provides transportation home. It wouldn’t necessarily require more buses, but it would require more trips by the current buses.

    • All schools on the same schedule…would love to do so, but just cannot figure it out economically, which unfortunately is a critical factor. Buying 40+ more buses, I suppose is possible with a special transportation levy. Finding a lot for those buses to be parked…that is possible. Finding 40 more drivers…now that is a challenge, as we can barely find enough as it is. And then, telling those drivers that their work schedule is just an hour or so in the morning and then another hour in the afternoon…thus a 2 or 3 hour work day…that’s a tough one. I know that sounds like an adult issue, and it is. But it is a reality. To get quality people to want to drive buses, the job has to be one that can provide some level of income. And we can’t just go hire anyone off the street that wants to work just a few hours a day…as safety of our kids is paramount.

      Re: more affordable before and after school programs, I 100% agree. That is an area we have been working hard on over the last few years. But as you suggest, there is much more to be done.
      Here are some examples of what we have been working on:
      – Ensure all elementary schools have before/after childcare programs. In collaboration with the YMCA, we now have or will have childcare at all 14 elementaries. Parents can drop kids off as early as around 6:45 pm and pick them up as late as I believe 6:00 pm (times may vary per site). This does cost money, so we are working with the YMCA to try and reduce costs as much as possible.
      – We are providing after-school clubs/activities at all our elementaries, where before only some schools offered them, based on PTA support. As part of our One Schoolhouse Key Strategy of The Bellingham Promise, we are giving every elementary stipends to pay/run after-school clubs throughout the year.
      – In partnership with the Bellingham Schools Foundation, we have hired a grant writer to help us go find more resources to provide after-school options for kids. To date this has resulted in a million dollar plus grant for Shuksan MS as well as a large grant this last year from the United Way. This is allowing us to run even more enriched after-school opportunities at schools such as Alderwood, Birchwood and Cordata.

      These are just a few examples and we will continue to look for more dollars to ensure every student has safe and wonderful opportunities before and after school. The bottom line is it takes resources. I was recently in Cambridge, MA, where that school district has the largest per pupil spending in the state. They are able to fund extended day activities at all elementaries for all students. The student day is 8 hours long and is filled with fun activities, including music, arts, athletics…it is a given for all students. While we may not ever get to that level, I do believe, with the community’s support, we can continue to make great strides.

      • Thanks for supporting the school bus drivers. If our daily time was cut, I’m sure many drivers would be looking somewhere else for employment. You would lose a lot of good people.

        • We don’t want to happen! There are many factors to consider in this discussion and many folks impacted in some way. Thanks for the comment, and we appreciate the feedback.

  • Has the community ever thought of forcing high school students onto city buses? It use will likely perpetuate through their adult lives as well as reduce the dependence of automobiles for teens. I think older children walking on the roads will help safety and security for communities overall. When we move off of the dependency of school buses for high school children, we can then allow teens to pick their school start and stop times with great flexibility. High school classes could start at 7:45 AM for some students (depending on class availability) or 9:15 AM for others. This is the ultimate college prep because many universities do not offer any structured form of transportation for their students.

    • Thanks for the question and ideas. The answer is yes, we have spent considerable time trying to figure out how WTA can be part of our transportation plan. In cities that have robust public transportation, city buses make a lot of sense, particularly for older students. For Bellingham, WTA service is limited to just some parts of town. And to this point, WTA has not committed to adding bus routes and guaranteeing room for our students. So while it is still something we are having discussions about, to this point, relying on WTA has not provided a viable option.

  • My youngest child who is about to graduate High School this year has had difficulty with the early start time, so I thought I might give some input for the young families out there. It seems to be so simple to me; Why can’t the district alter the start time schedules of Elementary, Middle and High schools. From my experience, the youngest group, the elementary students who are up and ready early in the morning should start the earliest. Middle school students a little later. High School students who are late to bed at night, due to extra curricular activities, homework, part-time jobs etc. get to start even later.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. I find many HS parents have this perspective. As I mentioned in the original posting, maybe an 8:00 am ES start time is a compromise that most can agree to. Thanks again!!

  • A while back you explored the idea of having an early flight class for students who have after school activities such as sports and jobs and then another option of starting later and going later. Is this still on the plate? While this wouldn’t solve our bussing issue it would be nice to have an option because not all high schoolers have trouble going to sleep at 9. For my son, after a day of school, sports, followed by homework, he is wiped out and ready for bed at 9:00. I recognize that there are issues between giving WTA passes to high schoolers…overcrowding, late busses etc can cause problems for the high school schedule. But perhaps those within a 3 mile radius with lines that run every 30 minutes (or close enough to walk) could be on WTA and school transporation if you are further out? In terms of adding school time…please consider banning cell phone use in classrooms as a district policy. I see more kids wasting time during classes because they are checking to see who texted them, rather than focusing on their learning. What are we teaching kids about expecations for their future employment…is it okay to be checking FB on the clock? As well…get rid of extended learning at middle school. I’ve been in several extended learning classes as a para in the district and I mostly see tired teachers who don’t have time to plan a useful, well rounded curriculum. These classes often feel like an afterthought and most kids just look bored. While this may be useful time for students in AVID or other specialized programs, the general population is not engaged in their learning during this time. I’d like to see the district make better use of the time we have curretly before adding time to the school day. And last but not least…can we please provide our students eating school breakfast with a well balanced and decent meal? Again, time we currently have would be much more engaging for students if they attended on a well rounded meal. Fruit loops and cinnamon rolls do not support student learning. Thanks for listening.

    • Thanks for the email and remember of the idea of a flexible HS schedule. We tried encouraging our HSs to offer an optional 7th period after the regular school day ended where students could either take a 7th period after school, or they could sleep in in the morning, not take first period, but then stay later in the day. It never really gained traction. My perception was it was hard for the system to adjust and truly provide classes after school and get kids interested. For example, if most kids get out at say 2:15, and all the athletics/activities start right after school, it is hard for kids to stay after 2:15 and take a class.

      Re: relying on WTA for routes within the core of the city and school buses for the outer areas, that is a great idea and one we have pondered. We just have not been able to get past the details, as you mentioned – what if a WTA bus is full and they drive by a group of kids…the WTA bus just keeps going and riders have to wait for the next bus. Are families really going to be ok with their kids potentially being late to school more often?

      WTA is going through a strategic planning process to determine what their vision is for the future. Providing some transportation to our HS students has not been part of their plan in the past. To their credit though, they invited us to be on their committee looking forward. Simone Sangster, our Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations, is sitting on that committee, and thus bringing up the question of how might WTA be a part of our transportation solution as a school district. So do we have a solution involving WTA now? No. In the future? Possible!

      Re: cell phones, that can certainly be a challenge. But be have found banning them is not a productive option. Not only do kids want to have them, but many parents demand that their kids have phones in case of an emergency. So what do we do? I think we need to continue teaching our kids when it is appropriate to have founds out and when it it not. The reality is, we as adults are awful role models. Go to any adult meeting and look around the room. 🙂

      Re: extended learning, I agree we have a lot of variability across the district with regards to how that time is used. Depending on the teacher, the student, the school, the day of the week…sometimes it is great as kids are getting help from a teacher…or kids are reading…or extending their learning. But other times, as you suggest, it seems that time is being wasted. We are talking with our teachers and our principals about this, specifically as we look at how we might add more electives/lengthen the student day.

      Re: healthier meals in our schools….well that is a whole other blog! The short answer, we are looking at doing just as you suggest! Just last month, we had teams visiting school districts in California and Colorado, learning how they have changed their food programs. Our goal is move from frozen, processed food to more scratch cooking, using fresh, healthy, locally grown food. Stay tuned for more information!

  • World Language? How come FMS now is offering Chinese but not more Spanish? I am less concerned with start and end times and more concerned with poor decisions like this.

    • Great question. The short answer is that to this point, which languages are offered at each school has been a site-based decision. For example, we have one school that offers Japanese, two that offer American Sign Language, two that offer German, three that offer French, five that offer Mandarin and thirteen that offer Spanish. These decisions are informed by multiple factors (some of which are outlined in our recent world language committee recommendations), including student and family interest, research on what languages might best help our kids be competitive in the work force, what languages are spoken in our area, and what expertise/desire teachers on a staff might have.

      A few years ago, no elementary school offered a world language. Today, we have eight…with more on the way!

      With regards to Mandarin, it is a language that is growing in popularity and demand, across the city as well as the country and world. We now have three elementary schools offering Mandarin, two of which feed into Fairhaven MS. So for the first time, we now have an ES, MS and HS offering Mandarin. Families whose students have had Mandarin in ES have been asking for years to offer it at the MS. Unfortunately, at this point, due to limited resources, we have not typically offered more than one language per MS.

      We created a world language committee last year to examine a more systemic approach to world languages, specifically how do we get all our kids to become multilingual, as called out in The Bellingham Promise. Should we offer a couple of languages in all schools, for example Spanish and Mandarin, maybe ASL as well, and then as students get into MS and HS, offer more choices, such as French, German, Japanese…maybe even Russian? We have done multiple student and family surveys and Mandarin, Spanish and ASL are consistently the most requested languages.

      The reality is this became very complex and somewhat political. Questions arise such as:
      – How many languages can a school offer given the limited schedule/staffing? We found that at the HS, offering more than 4 languages can be quite difficult (as you need enough students/teachers to offer four years of the language).
      – How do we fund world language at all schools? The state does not provide adequate resources for a robust world language program.
      – Some HS world language teachers have shared a concern that if we do not offer the world language that they teach in the lower grades, then students will not have an interest as they reach HS, thus those staff will not have enough kids to continue a robust program.

      Another factor is that even if students take multiple years of a language, they usually do not come out proficient in that language. It takes more than a few years of classroom instruction. We are not currently getting students at a high level of proficiency with language offered mostly at the HS level. This is one reason we are trying to create a K-12 language pathway for our students. The committee identified opportunities for all kids with either Chinese or Spanish k-8, with additional languages offered in HS.

      We are working on pushing the language learning earlier because with multiple years of instruction in the same language, achieving proficiency is possible. If we are able to create pathways for language from elementary through high school, which we can do to scale once the schedule allows for it at the middle level, we will be able to develop students with mid-intermediate range of proficiency, which is the criteria for the state’s Seal of Biliteracy.

      A few other big ideas have also emerged. One, make all our schools immersion schools, where instruction is actually taught in English and in another language. Research is strong that an immersion experience increases the proficiency of students learning another language, particularly ELL students. A significant challenge to this approach though is finding enough staff that speak multiple languages. Many districts have a school or two that offers an immersion experience, but what would it take to take it to scale for all schools?

      The other approached emerged from a conversation last year at the Student Advisory Committee to the Superintendent, which is composed of a junior and senior from each of our four high schools. I meet with them monthly and get their input into the direction of the district – what is working, what isn’t and how do we improve. We discussed this world language puzzle and one student said he didn’t really learn Spanish until he spent a summer in Latin America on a mission helping folks with a building project. Aha! Living in another country for a period time…that can lead to language proficiency as well as a strong understanding of the culture…in a relatively short amount of time.

      So what if we could send our students to another country…maybe for a year, or a semester or a summer session? Students and families choose. The reality is some of our students already have this experience. But not all kids. The Bellingham Promise calls us to do all we can as a district and community on behalf of all our students. To develop graduates who are “multilingual readers and speakers” and “prepared for success in the global community”…it will take something bigger and bolder than what we are currently doing.

      For such a short question, you got quite the lengthy answer. 🙂 Thanks again!

  • I definitely agree that high school should start later.
    The bus challenge could be solved by doing it the way most other countries do – have the kids (at least high schoolers) ride public transportation. If the money allocated to the school district bus system was instead redirected to WTA, they could add the required buses and form an excellent partnership. The students would also be a stronger part of the community, always a good learning situation.
    Also, what if athletic teams met at 6:30am and other extracurricular activities (e.g. music programs) were after school instead. It seems there are more B’ham HS students in class at 6:30am currently than there are athletes at 3.

    • Thank your for your comment and great perspective. Yes, we have met with WTA in the past and we will continue to explore options with them. With regards to paying WTA to provide some of the transportation, that is an interesting idea. School districts can contract out for some services, but it becomes more challenging with state laws around collective bargaining.

      And one of the aspects of the 7:45 am high school start that I find most “cringeworthy” is the zero period. I’d say offering music programs or other extracurricular after school or during “normal” school hours would be a big bonus in getting our kids the sleep they need. If we are able to move to a 7 or 8 period school day, allowing more course options for kids, we will eliminate the need for zero hour courses.

      Thanks again.

  • I am proud that our district is not shying away from tough decisions. Having seen the benefit of a later start time when my daughter was in middle school and to see how exhausted she is now that she is up early for high school, I am glad we are still keeping this conversation alive. We owe it to our children to do what is right, not what is always convenient. I would love to see a similar conversation begin regarding homework. The Bellingham Promise is proof that we value the whole child but we are not allowing our students enough time to actually engage in anything beyond the academic goals. We can do better and I believe we have the leader in place to tackle this tough topic. Thank you Dr. Baker!

    • Great comment and thank you. I agree with your sentiments, and I greatly appreciate your trust and confidence.

  • I sincerely hope you can find a way to allow high school to begin later. I really do think it is a hardship on the physiology of most of the students.

    I also remember that it was far easier for my daughter to get up early when she was in grade school, and so it seems to make sense to simply flip the start times for those two groups. I support a later start time for high school even if that means the extracurricular activities need to be moved a little later. The truth is my daughter’s schedule will be fully filled one way or the other.

    With regard to using public transportation, my daughter always rode WTA to high school, in part because it means she could catch the bus 10 minutes later, and that extra 10 minutes of sleep mattered a lot to her. It also gave her a sense of confidence and self-sufficiency, taking care of herself, that she would not have feveloped from writing a school district bus.

    • Hi Michael, Thank you for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate your feedback. I agree that WTA could be part of a solution, but we have more work to do. It’s great that their schedule and routing worked well for your family, and I think it’s wonderful that she grew more self-sufficient and confident in the process.

      Thank you for your support and comments. I sincerely hope we can find a way to do this, too!

  • You know, with that large body of research regarding the reasons to go back to the K-8 model, you might consider adopting a K-8 model while working out the schedule conflicts. If we can keep our kids from going off that academic cliff at the same time we restructure start times, Bellingham would be way ahead of the game. It would help parents, too, if K-8 rode the same buses together.

    • Thank you for the suggestion of going to a K-8 model. K-8 schools can have some real positive aspects about them, including one less transition for students and families between schools. But they also can have some challenges, including ensuring a robust MS elective program, as the number of students in grades 6-8 is typically much smaller than a traditional MS. (For example, if you keep the same number of 6-8 kids we have in our MSs (600) and just add grades K-5, then the school would be 1800 kids.) There is also the challenge of whether all schools would be K-8 or just a few, and if just some, which ones. So while the concept is strong, it can be difficult to do. Regardless, I like the outside of the box thinking…thank you.

  • If 45 minutes are needed between bus schedules, then I suggest keeping elementary start at 8:30 and middle school at 9:15, but starting high school at 10:00, ending at 4:30. If students do an activity or sport, they could be done by 6pm or so. This is closer to when a lot of parents could pick them up after work anyway.

    • Hi Erin, thanks for your idea. It’s worth considering, but I worry about the impact of a 4:30 p.m. high school dismissal on after-school competitive clubs and sports. Games, matches, meets, etc. against other schools often start by 3 p.m., and there are some clubs and athletics that have to travel beyond Whatcom County to compete. Currently, some of our active students miss the last period (or more) of their day just so they can travel down to Skagit or beyond. But I appreciate the suggestion. I think regardless of our specific start and ends times, we’ll need to work with other districts in the county and region on the potential impact of the timing of after-school athletics and clubs. Thanks again!

  • We are parents of a 13 yr old 7th grader who often says he can’t fall asleep before 11 pm. We have observed that the later start in middle school is much better for our child. He is getting more sleep which is resulting in more energy at school. I would suggest the later start of school continue into high school.

    • Hi William, I’m so glad to hear your seventh grader is getting the sleep and rest he needs for middle school. I am hopeful that in the very near future, I will be hearing the same sentiments from our high school parents! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • We can figure this out!!
    I feel strongly that we need to follow the research, establishing earlier starts for elementary, later for middle, latest for high school. The minority of high school students who want to get up at 6am can use the extra morning time for their studying. If we keep brainstorming together, we will figure this out. What about combining neighborhood carpooling with fewer but more centralized stops for high school in the mornings and have a different plan for the afternoon: WTA only, school buses or combo. It seems that schedules are similar in the morning, but more varied in the afternoon. I did like the option of using the first period at high school for elective classes or sports or activities and clubs. Those attending the first period would need to use WTA or carpool or other. It would be a smaller group and perhaps accommodating that number of students with separate buses might be less expensive? Is there a way to use RideShare vans for schools? I’m just brainstorming here…

    I’d LOVE for elementary school to start 8am, though it would be more difficult during DST because the effective start time will be 7… Let’s just eliminate daylight savings time altogether! Changing our sleep cycles by one hour 2x a year cannot be healthy. I keep my elementary aged daughter’s real-time schedule the same. So her DST bedtime is 9 and her PST bedtime is 8. At present, she is up at 6am and bouncing off the walls. She only needs 20 minutes to get ready for school, the rest of that morning time is a waste. Meanwhile we’re racing around in the late afternoons with after-school activities and then dinner is delayed and bedtime is delayed and she still wakes up early, so, just like the high school kids, she doesn’t get enough sleep.

    My heart goes out to the working parents with kids in multiple schools, especially with the crazy “Purple Fridays” and “Early Release”. I believe that children are more successful with a solid routine. Between official holidays and “Purple Fridays”, there is hardly a chance to get into a “routine”. I would rather have shorter school days and let the teachers do their planning/prep in the afternoons and/or mornings or evenings at home like my school teacher mom did for 36 years.

    • Thank you, Liz, for your positive can-do attitude, and yes, we can figure this out. 🙂 I appreciate your out-of-the-box ideas with ride sharing and carpooling. And yes, working with WTA has great potential.
      And the daylight savings time comment…well, unfortunately, “they” (whoever “they” are) haven’t yet surveyed superintendents or families to ask what we think about shifting that hour twice a year. 🙂 I agree, it can be a challenge.

      As far as early release days and our Staff Learning Days (aka “Purple Fridays”), I definitely understand they can be a burden for our families. The process to come up with what we consider our official school year calendar (which determines our first and last days of school, our schedule of early release days, staff learning days, etc.) is done through a joint bargaining process between district administration and our teachers association. It’s a tough and amazing process, and we are very happy that we came up with a contract for four years (often they are only two or three). As I’ve said in other responses, we continue to work hard with community partners to offer fun and educational options for students on Thursday afternoons and the monthly Friday off. But we can certainly do more.

      As far as shortening the school day, I would worry that, too, would be a hardship on many families. And we’re also hoping to add more electives (STEM, world language, arts, music, etc.) to the middle and high school schedules, so I can’t see us shortening our day much more.
      Thank you again for taking the time to provide input. This blog has kept me inspired (and busy) the last few days!

  • There probably will never be a perfect schedule. But for my two cents worth, my daughter is currently in 5th grade. She has after school activities 3 – 5 days a week, increasing homework as the grades go by, and REQUIRES at least 10 hours sleep a night to function the next day. She is in bed by 7:30 and usually asleep by 8:00, getting up at 7:00am to make a 7:50 bus schedule. Starting her earlier just doesn’t seem to be the answer. They all need their sleep and transportation to school, adequate class times, etc. Looking forward to the answer.

    • Thanks for your comment. It sounds like your daughter and family will likely benefit from a later start in middle school. It seems as our kids age, it’s harder to get them to retreat to bed earlier – whether it’s social, sports, activities, and/or homework pressures. Given the research, it seems to make sense that our youngest students are the ones to start earlier. But you’re definitely right that we don’t want to take away from their important sleep time either. It’s definitely a balance.

      And you brought up a great topic for an upcoming blog… homework. That’s my teaser!

      Thanks again for sharing your feedback.

  • Thank you Dr. Baker and the district for all of your exploratory work on this issue to date. I’d love to see new later start times enacted ASAP. Yes, I agree that an 8am elementary start time would likely have more support than a 745am start time. I have a hard time with any child’s school day (no matter their age) starting before 8:00AM, especially when a typical adult work day doesn’t begin until 8. I’m fully in support of these proposed start times: 8:00 – Elementary, 8:45 – Middle, 9:30 – High School (with parents being allowed to drop off their elementary kids 30 minutes before school starts, same as they’re allowed to do now). I imagine that one of the main problems with a later high school start time is how to deal with out-of-district athletic games. I would encourage us to think out-of-the-box on this issue, and to place a priority on later school start times. Would it be possible for the students participating in these games to be excused from school early that day? Or maybe like in other countries, all high school sports become club sports that take place outside of school? On another topic, I would totally support WTA bus passes for high school students if needed. I would be okay with my kids being late for school more often if the bus happens to be full. Hopefully on those crowded morning routes, WTA would be running buses every 15 minutes, so the next bus would only be 15 minutes away. I like the idea that HS bus use may translate into more bus riding as an adult, as well as increased bus use by teens in general even when they’re not going to/from school. Better having them ride buses than drive cars. 🙂 Anyway, just wanted to share some of my thoughts. Thank you for listening and for encouraging replies to your blog.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment, and I appreciate your out-of-the-box ideas to have high school start later AND figure out a way to give student athletes some flexibility. Flexibility has been another driving factor in this discussion. I like the idea of our oldest students, especially juniors and seniors, having more flexibility in their day to best meet their specific needs. Some examples are Running Start, attending a class at a high school across town not offered at their neighborhood high school (electives like world language, niche art, special AP class, etc.), internships, work schedules, etc.
      And yes, as you can tell from this blog, a lot of people support us working with WTA! 🙂
      Thanks again for taking the time to comment. We appreciate the responses.

  • Thank you for reading and responding to all of these comments. I appreciate your time and attention. As a parent of an 8th grader, we will be facing the early high school start time next year. I feel that if the district is going to alter start and end times for all schools, then the change should be a significant one. I believe that last year’s proposal had the high schools beginning only 30 minutes later than the current time. I don’t believe that 30 extra minutes of sleep will benefit our students enough to warrant changing all the schedules of all the students and families in Bellingham. If we are going to go to the effort of making these changes, please make the high school start time be at least one hour later and do not add any extra time to the school day.

    • Thank you for your comment and idea that if we’re truly doing this to help teens sleep, let’s have high school start last – perhaps 9 a.m. or after. I also have found it interesting that many middle school parents have come forward with positive things to say about the 9:15 a.m. start and that their middle school kids need and like that extra time to sleep. I know other families find the after 9 a.m. start tricky because so many people have to be at work between 8-8:30 a.m., but presumably our oldest kids have the tools and ability to get to school on time, even if their parents have gone to work (I hope!).

      And to your point about extending the day: this goes back to offering our high school kids more flexibility. If we decide to extend the day, we would do it with the understanding that what works for some kids may not work for all. This is how our teachers operate in the classroom every day with differentiated instruction, why not extend this same thinking to our high school schedule? The Bellingham Promise is not just about developing graduates who have a knowledge of certain areas (math, writing, etc.), character (respectful and compassionate) or take action (critical thinkers), but it’s also about encouraging our students to develop and pursue a passion. I really like the idea of allowing our secondary students an opportunity to try music, band, guitar, art, yoga, robotics and much more. These are powerful experiences for their young minds that may or many not fall into our “core classes,” yet can have a lifelong impact. We are all about the whole child. My hope is that an extended schedule would allow kids to attend an elective that isn’t seen as an additional stressor, rather a chance to try something new that may light them up in a different way. Or … that additional time in their day could be used for an internship, mentoring, Running Start, work or a variety of other opportunities that best fit that student’s needs.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment!

  • Hello,

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment. As a working parent with a child beginning kindergarten this year, I struggled with how I was going to get my child to school at 8:30 when I have to be at work at 8am. I worked with my employer to accommodate this and changed my schedule. I am more fortunate than others who maybe couldn’t flip things around. That being said, if the schedule changes year to year this put strains on working parents who have to figure out what to do (I don’t want to go ask my employer to accommodate me again next year). We need a consistent schedule. Changing it year to year creates challenges for working parents who have to scramble around and make before and after school arrangements on top of finding care for the early dismissal days and the teacher work days. Thank you for your consideration in keeping k-5 as it is.


    • Thank you for taking the time to share your perspective with me. I take to heart the challenges our families face as they juggle school, family, and work commitments. While the current schedule works for some folks and doesn’t work for others, consistency and predictability are interests that resonates with almost everyone.

      I have been asked if we would ever just land on one schedule and not make any more adjustments. While I can promise you that we will always be very thoughtful about making changes, I can’t promise you that we will be able to find a perfect schedule and then never change it again.

      That said, please know that I have heard you. As we explore this issue, we are looking closely at opportunities to partner with community groups, parent associations, non-profit organizations, childcare providers and others to give our families as many choices and supports as possible to help deal with the challenges that may be associated with a new schedule.

      Speaking more specifically to your situation, one of the scheduling options we’re exploring would move high school to an 8:30 start time, with elementary starting maybe at 8:00 am. This might work even better for your family if your work starts at 8:00 am, since you could drop your student off any time between say 7:30 and 8:00 am.

      Thanks again for staying engaged in this process and sharing your experience.

  • With being so focused on starting at 8:30 we forget to realize that we would get out of school at 3:30. Being in High School means we begin to start working. Getting out of school at 2:15 and going to work for a few hours and finding time to still do your homework is a challenge now. Let alone getting out of school at 3:30, Picking up a 4:00 shift until 7 or 8:00 and then doing your 3 hour homework. We would just be finishing our homework at 11:00 pm. And will end up getting the same amount of sleep. What about our household chores? Any other responsibilities we have to take care of? There simply just won’t be enough time for us to get done what we need to. You should get opinions of ACTUAL High School students and see how they feel.

  • With being so focused on starting at 8:30 we forget to realize that we would get out of school at 3:30. Being in High School means we begin to start working. Getting out of school at 2:15 and going to work for a few hours and finding time to still do your homework is a challenge now. Let alone getting out of school at 3:30, Picking up a 4:00 shift until 7 or 8:00 and then doing your 3 hour homework. We would just be finishing our homework at 11:00 pm. And will end up getting the same amount of sleep. What about our household chores? Any other responsibilities we have to take care of? There simply just won’t be enough time for us to get done what we need to. You should get opinions of ACTUAL High School students and see how they feel.

    • It is great to see another student commenting here. Thank you for sharing your opinion on this issue.

      There are a few factors driving the proposal to change start and end times so that our high schools can start later. The most important is health and what we now know about teen brains and sleep patterns. The American Pediatric Association, representing doctors around the country, released a new report last spring directly requesting that school districts change start times for middle and high school to no earlier than 8:30 am. They say adolescents’ bodies are not fully functioning that early, regardless of how much sleep they have had. So even if some students (like you perhaps) still get the same amount of sleep within a schedule that starts later, research is telling us that students will be able to perform better starting at 8:30 than they can when they start at 7:30 (or 6:30 for zero hour classes). Doctors and researchers say a later start time will have an impact not only on student achievement, but will also reduce student driving accidents, decrease obesity and support better overall health.

      You rightly point out that it is important to listen to students. In addition to conversations with many students this year, Assistant Superintendent Steve Clarke and I met with every class at every high school in the district last year in order to talk about the possibility of changing start/end times and the high school schedule. Your peers were not shy; we heard a lot of feedback. Many students shared concerns that were similar to yours, noting that if starting later means getting out later, their afternoons and evenings are already very full. As we talked more about the idea and the reasoning behind it, though, many students – even those who started out with strong concerns – began to see benefits to changing the schedule.

      Through those conversations as well as conversations with teachers, parents, and others, it has become very clear to me that there is not going to be one perfect schedule that will meet everyone’s wishes. Just as there are students like you for whom a new schedule sounds challenging, I also hear from students and families who struggle with our current schedule and would benefit from a change.

      Balancing all those competing interests is not easy, but our doctors would say to start with adequate sleep and build from there. And I truly believe we can find a schedule that better supports what we now know about students’ biological needs while still working well for a majority of our students and families.

  • Human beings are made to wake up when the sun rises. That’s been what happens for hundreds of years. Every morning, that’s what wakes me up. Therefore, why not change the time school starts with the time of year, when the sun rises at different times?

    As for all this talk about starting school later, it should be the student’s responsibility to get out of bed early enough. Don’t change the school schedule around that. When they have a job later in life, they can’t just show up late because they got out of bed too late. They have to learn to be on time.

    • The more we learn about human biorhythms, the more it seems that you’re right about our bodies’ dependence on cues from the natural environment like sunrise. Someday it may be feasible to set (and manage!) a schedule that automatically adjusts to the changing sunrise. But for now, it is complicated enough just to consider the adjustments that will be needed to give our teens a start time that better aligns with the natural changes in their brains and sleep cycles. Regardless of the start times we agree to as a community, I also agree that accountability and personal responsibility are critical skills and it is each student’s responsibility to arrive to classes on time. Thank you for taking the time to add your voice to the conversation.

  • Hi Grayce, thanks for your comment. I’m not sure if you’re a student or parent, but we really truly polled all of our high school students during the 2014-15 school year via “Poll Everywhere,” a digital polling tool during class assemblies at all four of our high schools. This happened two years ago (the blog I wrote was from Nov. 2015), so depending on your grade (or your student’s grade), you may or may not have participated in the poll.

    I should also add that we are in the process of surveying high school students (grades 9-11) about the new high school schedule to get an idea of what courses students would like to take in the 4 x 8 schedule, which goes into effect in the 2017-18 school year.

    Thanks for the link to tips on improving my memory! Ha! Let me know if you have any other questions.