SACO – About a year ago, the schools in my community decided to adjust the start time for the local schools. The high school where I teach, Thornton Academy, changed their schedule and instead of starting the day at 7:30 a.m., students, teachers, and staff would begin the day at 8:30. With this altered schedule, instead of ending the school day at 2:05 p.m., we would now end the day at 2:45.
After a year of starting later in the day, I thought I’d share some of my observations. Let me start with this simple statement: change is difficult.
Anytime you ask 1,500 students, more than 125 teachers, and their families to change their daily routine, it’s not going to be easy.
The reason for the change was simple. Many educators, psychologists, and medical personnel claimed that students who attended school’s where the day began a little later performed better in school. They had the appropriate studies and data to back up their claims, and presented their findings to local politicians, parents, and anybody else who might be interested in the issue.
Our community wasn’t the first to make this change, but we were somewhere near the leading edge, not always a comfortable place to be. In some ways that made this schedule change more difficult. We had fewer other communities to follow and now our administrators had to deal with the issue of scheduling after school interscholastic activities with schools that still ended their school day at a different time. Scheduling our own athletic practices, club activities, and general after school events certainly became more challenging. But did we see a difference? Did our overall student performance improve?
I can only give you one teacher’s perspective, but my simple answer is yes. I do believe the students were more successful academically because they were allowed to arrive about an hour later.
Here are three quick observations that helped me come to this conclusion.
One, the students in my first period class seemed far more alert, engaged, and in general, awake. When school started at 7:30, I would often have a few students (not always the same students) who would arrive late to class. Usually, they would arrive 10-15 minutes after the morning bell and sputtering mumbled excuses about their parents, the car, or the congested roads surround campus. I know – traffic in Maine?
But as they became more comfortable with me, they would admit that somehow they managed to sleep through their alarm.
It seems simple, but students who were more alert were more likely to listen, take notes, and engage in discussions.
Two, overall our students performed better on standardized tests. Amongst other things, I teach AP English and each of my students are required to take the AP exam at the end of the year. Last year, the average grade for my students was significantly higher. Beyond that, all of the juniors take the SAT exam in the spring, and last year, our school-wide average improved. It might be just an anomaly, but I think the shift in the school day might have played a part in the improved scores.
Three, the students I saw during the beginning of the school day seemed more alert, more responsive, and in general in a better mood. Often the students who were enrolled in the my first period classes were quiet, sometimes sullen, and even a bit grumpy. I know. I know. There’s no real hard data to back this up, but I stare into a sea of teenage faces every day and after our community changed the beginning of the school day, more often than not, those faces smiled back at me.
So now as we begin another school, I am looking forward to the quiet time before school starts and the smiling and alert faces of my students as they come through the door of my classroom.