New school start time is OK'd for BUHS

Posted
Saturday June 11, 2011

BRATTLEBORO -- The Windham Southeast Supervisory Union recently announced a new later start time for Brattleboro Union High School.

Starting this fall, classes at BUHS will begin at 8:45 a.m. and end at 3:20 p.m. Currently the school day starts at 7:45 a.m. and ends at 2:20 p.m.

This change in the schedule was implemented after months of research by a committee of 10 staff members, teachers and parents. They recommended the new start time after researching other schools who have already switched to a later start time and reading studies that suggest teenagers function better at school when they are able to sleep in later. Committee member Ellen Pratt of Putney said she became interested in the topic after seeing the way her son reacted to rising early every morning to catch the bus.

"I noticed when he entered high school that his sleep patterns changed," Pratt said. "His bedtime used to 9 p.m., but he just couldn't go to bed that early anymore. He would wake up for the bus at 6 a.m. and look like he'd been hit by a bus, and I clued into the research."

She found information about Minneapolis, Minn., which implemented later start times in its schools with positive results. She suggested changing the school hours to Ron Stahley, WSESU superintendent, but until recently the idea was put on hold because the bus routes have been tricky to change around, Stahley said.

He said that one bus previously dedicated to transporting children in special education programs is no longer needed for that purpose, freeing up the bus schedule somewhat and allowing the changes that are necessary to start the high school day later.

"There are no additional costs associated with this change, as far as transportation," Stahley said.

The new bus schedule calls for elementary school students to be picked up before the high school and Brattleboro Area Middle School students, which is the opposite of the arrangement the schools have now.

WSESU elementary schools will all begin class between 8:10 and 8:25 a.m. and end the day between 2:40 and 3 p.m.

A committee was assembled to look at the possibility of changing school hours, and its 10 members found that study after study suggested a later start to the school day had multiple benefits for students, said Pratt.

Studies have shown that teens need more sleep than adults -- about nine hours of each night -- but their internal clocks cause them to not become sleepy until around 11 p.m.

"Many people thought it was a cultural thing -- that adolescents were allowed to stay up later -- but it's actually a natural clock type of thing, their circadian rhythm," said Jane Katz Field, MD, a pediatrician at Just So Pediatrics in Brattleboro.

Right now, a BUHS student that goes to sleep at 11 p.m. will likely have to catch a bus before 7 a.m., giving him or her less than eight hours of sleep without even taking into consideration the time it takes to get ready each morning.

Altering the school day so that it aligns more closely with teens' sleeping habits sends a positive message to the students at BUHS, said Katz Field, who has four grown children, the youngest of which recently graduated college.

"At a time often filled with hopelessness and feeling like people aren't listening to you, I think it would be something that would sort of help the trust issues between the students and the administration," Katz Field said.

But not all Brattleboro students support the new schedule. Jason Shatney, a 17-year-old junior at BUHS and the Windham Regional Career Center, said administrators never sought the opinion of the student body before making their decision.

"(Stahley) hasn't contacted the student body directly, and that's bugged a lot of people that I've talked to," he said. He said it would have been easy to poll the students and take the response into consideration.

Instead, a survey was handed out to students to bring home to their parents. Stahley said there was a return rate of about 20 to 25 percent.

Shatney said the later dismissal in the afternoon will cause inconveniences for him and others who have after-school jobs. He has a job that requires him to be at work by 3 p.m. several times a week, he said, and next year it won't be possible for him to make it there on time. His place of employment closes at 6 p.m., limiting the amount of hours he can work after school.

"With gas prices and putting money away for school and everything, the more money the better," he said.

Does he find the extra hour of sleep tempting at all?

"Sort of, but it's not really that important," he said. "Work is more important to me."

Curious about what other students thought, Shatney started a poll on the social networking site Facebook. As of Friday afternoon, 131 people who took the survey said they are against the change, 24 voted in favor of it, and 28 said they "don't care."

Shatney said that some students he spoke with are worried about sports practices lasting longer; others are concerned about not being able to provide after-school care for their younger siblings, who will be dismissed from school before they are under the new arrangement.

Stahley said he's working with the elementary schools to make sure they have programs that will provide at least half an hour of additional supervision after school.

"Over the course of several years we've been increasing after-school enrichment programs and remediation programs in every school," Stahley said.

"It's part of our whole school improvement effort, so that was in the works anyway," he added. "It's kind of an unintended benefit, but I think what it's going to do is help extend the day for elementary students for families who want their child to stay and do some extra work in subjects that the kids might be deficient in, like reading and writing or math competency."

A look into the various sports teams' schedules for next year showed that with the adjusted school hours students would not miss many more classes due to early dismissal for away games, Stahley said.

"In many cases the fall sports didn't have any changes, other than in varsity and junior varsity field hockey, who do back to back games," he said. "Winter, as far as competitions, didn't seem to have any impact; in spring some sports range from missing one to two classes up to four or five, but that doesn't appear to change in the new schedule."

The survey was sent home to parents of students in all WSESU schools, including the elementary schools, and the results were about 2-1 in support of the change.

"Guilford was not in favor, Vernon was kind of split, and Brattleboro town, Putney, Dummerston, BAMS and the high school were in favor," Stahley said.

He speculated that Guilford, the only town with its own buses, had more concerns about the bus route than other towns. First Student, the bus company contracted by the other WSESU schools, agreed to transport some of the Guilford students who live close to one of the Brattleboro runs.

"I didn't want the Guilford start time to be a lot earlier than other elementary runs and worked with the principal, the drivers and First Student to see if we could use one of the Brattleboro buses to take some of the pressure off the other runs in Guilford," Stahley said.

Stahley said the school district can always go back to the old schedule if the changes don't work out or tweak the new schedule if need be.

"I'd like to keep the committee intact and continuing to meet to monitor how things are going," he said.

A public forum will be held On June 21 at 6:30 p.m. at Academy School to address parents' concerns. It will focus especially on the after-school programs that will be available to parents of younger children.

Jaime Cone can be reached at jcone@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.


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