Schools trying to improve student performance with new start times
Barrington Area Unit District 220 Superintendent Brian Harris says students aren't the only ones who will be affected by new start times that are backed by research from leading health organizations and expected to lead to improved academic performance.
There are the small businesses that may have to alter scheduling because they employ Barrington High School students, who will begin their days 70 minutes later when classes resume Monday. There also are the morning commuters who may find traveling a little easier because many school buses and student drivers won't be on the road at peak commuting time.
And then there are parents who may need to lean on neighbors, tap into after-school programs or make other arrangements because their elementary-age children will be dismissed earlier than last year.
"You're not even talking school start times here," Harris said. "You're talking community culture. This whole thing has had a significant impact on our community."
Following the lead of Lincolnshire-based Stevenson High School District 125 last year, at least three more suburban systems approved new start times for 2017-18.
Similar to Stevenson leaders, officials at District 220, Northwest Suburban High School District 214 and Lincolnshire-Prairie View Elementary District 103 cited the health research in changing when students begin their days.
Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows middle school and high school classes should begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
Adolescents require more sleep and can be expected to perform better in school if they start classes later, according to health experts.
Elementary schoolchildren are biologically capable of falling asleep in the early evening and rising early without ill effects, according to the experts from Harvard Medical School and elsewhere who presented at the first Adolescent Sleep, Health and School Start Times National Conference earlier this year in Washington, D.C.
Of the three moving to new start times this year, District 220, which serves about 8,900 students in kindergarten through high school, is the most ambitious because it educates all grade levels in 12 buildings. High school and middle school students will begin later, with the younger children starting earlier.
Later starts were approved for the roughly 12,000 students at District 214's six schools and about 820 pupils at District 103's Daniel Wright Junior High School in Lincolnshire.
District 214 students returned last Wednesday with classes beginning 35 to 45 minutes later than last year's 7:30 a.m. start that was used for most schools.
Stevenson spokesman Jim Conrey said pushing the first class from 8:05 to 8:30 a.m. has had benefits such as providing more time for teachers to meet in the morning and reducing area traffic problems, because rush-hour drivers are mostly gone before school starts. He said it's too soon to gauge academic performance.
"The change went as well as we could have hoped," Conrey said.
District 220's start time shifts will be more dramatic when classes begin Monday.
Barrington High School students will begin at 8:30 a.m. instead of 7:20 a.m. District 220's two middle schools will start at 9 a.m. instead of 7:55 a.m., with the elementary buildings beginning an hour earlier at 8 a.m.
Harris said it's believed District 220 is the only unit school system in the Chicago area making a significant shift in start times. However, others, including Naperville Unit District 203 and Elgin Area School District U-46, have discussed the issue.
District 220's associate superintendent of K-12 operations, Craig Winkelman, said he's confident in the changes because they are rooted in research.
The district began discussing the times in 2015 and approved the changes late last year.
"We're going into it with a certain plan," said Winkelman, who attended the national conference on the issue in Washington. "We're going to continue to study it and then make adjustments as necessary."
As for the students, Barrington High senior Paige Davis said her family and others she knows with younger children still are grappling with the new times. She said her family may need a neighbor or baby sitter for the youngest sibling, who will be dismissed well before the others.
Davis said she was unsure of the plan at first but now looks forward to getting extra sleep through the later start.
"If scientists are saying that's what's best for us," she said, "then obviously they know what they're talking about."