School start time policy

Administration wrestles with schedule adjustments

(Olivia Wycklendt) High school students walk home from school after having early release on Wednesday. Early release may be removed next year.
(Olivia Wycklendt) High school students walk home from school after having early release on Wednesday. Early release may be removed next year.

A number of prominent scientific studies and popular support has led the district to consider proposals for a later start time at the high school.

At this point, the plan most likely to be adopted would have a start time somewhere between 7:55 a.m. and 8:05 a.m., up from the current 7:35 a.m., and a dismissal time around 3:15 p.m., up from the current 3:07 p.m. on normal days and 2:15 p.m. on Wednesdays. The plan would also eliminate the 2:15 p.m. dismissal on Wednesdays, making it a normal-length school day.

One of the main objectives of the plan is to ensure that no additional school days are added in the summer. To accommodate that goal, however, three built-in non-school days would become full days, limiting the school’s ability to have a snow-day without adding days in the summer.

“The plan is being crafted specifically to avoid [adding days in the summer],” said John Jacobson, social studies teacher.

“We’re trying very hard to end on June 9 [with a] Thursday graduation. Everyone likes it for the most part, and that’s what everyone is shooting for,” said Debra Schwinn, social studies teacher.

The proposal has received both praise as well as criticism from faculty, students, parents and other community members.

Supporters claim that the extra time in the morning would allow for students to be better rested and be more alert.

“I think [the additional time in the morning] would definitely benefit the student body,” Jacobson said.

“I think school should start later because it seems that the majority of students are overly tired in first hour … Not getting enough sleep is unhealthy and can lead to an increase in the stress already caused by school,” said Meredith Oechler, sophomore.

However, opponents of the proposal claim that starting only 20 or 30 minutes later will be a relatively useless change.

“I honestly don’t think it’s going to make a difference. What the researchers are talking about it a bigger span of time. 20 minutes isn’t going to make a difference. I honestly don’t think the kids will be any more alert at 8:00 a.m. than they will be at 7:30 a.m.,” said Linda Knutson, physical education teacher.

Schwinn disagrees.

“The ultimate start time is 9:00 a.m., but the closer you get to 9:00 a.m., there are specific benefits,” Schwinn said.

Schwinn witnessed the change in the start time from 7:55 a.m. to 7:35 a.m. a few years back and said that she observed firsthand how big of a difference just 20 minutes can make.

(Olivia Wycklendt) Students walk into Shorewood High School on a Thursday morning. If the controversial proposal is approved, school could start approximately a half hour later.
(Olivia Wycklendt) Students walk into Shorewood High School on a Thursday morning. If the controversial proposal is approved, school could start approximately a half hour later.

“We used to have a 7:55 a.m. start time, and when they rolled it over to 7:35 a.m. in the middle of the year, there was an immense change in my first hour class in their level of engagement, in their ability to participate. It was incredible, and I saw it firsthand, which is why I’ve been very much in favor of this since the start,” Schwinn said.

Another concern is the loss of the early release Wednesdays, which allow students to leave at 2:15 p.m. and give teachers time to collaborate with their colleagues.

“I believe that the start time change is unnecessary … I would much prefer Wednesday early release,” said Becky Jonen, sophomore.

“I think if you can find 25 more minutes of time in the morning for the average teenager, the health and educational benefits overwhelmingly outweigh the benefits of getting to leave 50 or so minutes early one day of the week,” Jacobson said.

“I think that teachers can certainly collaborate other times. We can meet before and after school if we need to, especially if school starts later. The Wednesday time, while it’s been a nice thing to do, I think we can accomplish all the same things without it,” Schwinn said.

“I think we’re going to miss some of the collaborative time … Teachers need to talk, and if we don’t have early release, we’re going to all be in our individual buildings again, and there’s not going to be communication between buildings,” Knutson said.

According to Knutson, another problem is the high school’s 45 minute lunch, which is significantly longer than the majority of other school’s.

“We are the only school I know that has the ridiculously long lunch hour. It’s so long compared to other schools, and that’s why other schools don’t have an issue with time,” Knutson said.

“[Lunch] is the one time when the whole school is together, when everybody can be accommodated, tutoring, everything. That 45-minute chunk of time in the middle of the day is very important for us as a community and I will fight it tooth and nail until my last breath. We all get stuff done during lunch, and we count on that time to get stuff done,” Schwinn said.

Schwinn attributes the high school’s long lunch hour to its facilities.

“Especially for kids who are eating free and reduced lunch, our whole setup is so small, that a lot of kids at the end of a 25 minute proposed lunch period haven’t even gotten their food yet. Our facilities are such that we need those full 45 minutes to feed the kids that we need to feed,” Schwinn said.

“It’s not as much of a change or an impact as people want to believe it is, other than just a later time, it’s just going to let us all be a lot more functional at school,” Schwinn said.

The proposal, if approved, would most likely take effect at the high school in the 201516 school year.

by Eli Frank

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