Later school start times discussed
Study group ‘strongly recommended’ that the Owen J. Roberts School District change its scheduling
SOUTH COVENTRY >> A study group from the Chester County Intermediate Unit student forum Monday night “strongly recommended” that the Owen J. Roberts School District change its scheduling to join a growing movement of later high school start times.
Four students representing the forum’s task force which studied start times in high schools concluded a presentation at the school board committee-of-the-whole meeting with a recommendation to the board to consider changing the high school start time, currently 7:30 a.m., to a later time.
The students cited the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. They also noted a survey by the Centers for Disease Control has shown high schools on average start at 7:59 a.m.
The representatives recited the start times in their schools including Phoenixville, 7:20 a.m.; Coatesville Area, 7:30; West Chester, 7:35, and Unionville-Chadds Ford, which this year created a later start time of 7:45.
Monday night’s presentation came on the heels of OJR Superintendent Michael Christian’s announcement last month that the district is forming a task force to study the issue. Staff, students and parents have been invited to join a
The representatives recited the start times in their schools including Phoenixville, 7:20 a.m.; Coatesville Area, 7:30; West Chester, 7:35, and Unionville Chadds Ford, which this year created a later start time of 7:45.
discussion regarding the student forum findings and local parent appeals.
According to the student presentation, the student forum conducted a survey in Chester County that showed 80 percent of those students who replied believe a later start time would benefit them. Benefits span the categories of academic, physical, emotional and safety, the students said. They include better grades by being alert in class, emotional well-being, fewer illnesses and injuries, and fewer car crashes and fewer incidents of drug or alcohol abuse.
People often say, “Why don’t they just go to bed earlier?” pointed out student forum representative Matt LoPolito of Phoenixville Area High School. But that isn’t the issue, he said. After puberty, adolescents’ circadian rhythms change, and they are typically not able to get to sleep before midnight. Their biological clocks conflict with the demands of high school schedules, he said.
The students acknowledged the obstacles to changing school start times, including busing, extracurricular activities and the impact on families juggling schedules of younger siblings. Their presentation included alternatives
“We’ve been working on increasing online learning opportunities for several years. The genesis of this was not related to the sleep study presentation you just heard. This was to prepare our students for an increasingly digital world and online learning.” — OJR Superintendent Michael Christian
and suggestions from other school districts which have successfully altered schedules. The students noted that elementary-aged children are more often in sync with early school start times than their highschool aged siblings.
One of the suggestions to substitute first-period classes with online learning is already being used at OJR, although Christian pointed out to the board it’s in response to digital initiatives, not sleep deprivation.
A presentation on curriculum initiatives later in the Monday meeting highlighted the addition of more hybrid and online courses in the high school. High school Principal Richard Marchini illustrated how a student’s schedule could include a number of hybrid courses in such a way that the student would not have to come to campus before the start of second period.
Hybrid courses, he explained, require some class meeting time in addition to the online work, but that time is usually scheduled in second period or later.
“We’ve been working on increasing online learning opportunities for several years,” Christian told the board. “The genesis of this was not related to the sleep study presentation you just heard. This was to prepare our students for an increasingly digital world and online learning.”
However, the fact that students engaging in online learning can achieve a later start time was a point observed by board members in Marchini’s presentation. In response to a question, it was noted that school transportation is not available for second period starts.
Marchini said one of the most popular online courses currently being offered is physical education. He said students can develop personal fitness programs monitored with Fitbit fitness trackers, getting credit for PE without participating in class on the school campus.