Reviewing the Late Start

Posted in Community

In pressing for the later start, concerned educators and parents, serving on the school district’s Wellness Committee, cited compelling scientific research noting that teenagers have fundamentally different sleep patterns than adults. Through later start times, this research argues, students would have a better chance to get the sleep they need and, hopefully, improve general well-being, reduce stress and boost academic performance. So, is this initiative working?

Students rush to class in the morning with more energy.

Students rush to class in the morning with more energy.

Proponents of the later start argued that the school would see other benefits such as reduced tardy rates, which can be disruptive to learning. Along with benefiting the students, teachers would also take pleasure in the extra time as well.

English and IHS teacher Sandy Hsiao-Frates noted, “since the changes in start times, students seem more awake or have more energy during the first period of the day. I don’t have any concrete evidence of academic performance improving, and I don’t think stress is reduced.”

Karen DeHart, social studies teacher, stated, “it seems to work to some extent. I think fewer students are falling asleep in earlier classes.”

Both Hsiao-Frates and DeHart reported a noticeable improvement in the students’ energy during their morning classes, seeming to support the case for late start.

Cynthia Mansourian, psychology and social studies teacher, stated, “the main change I notice is fewer tardies for the first period of the day than before; I also think requiring tardy slips [imposed in January 2011] has contributed to that change.” This component, along with late start, seems to be a good combination thus far.

In the 2011-2012 school year, there were 14,443 tardies, an all-time high for Albany High students. The tardy slip policy was introduced halfway throughout that year. In the 2012-2013 school year, which was the first year to the change in start times and requiring tardy slips, tardies dropped dramatically. The number of tardies was 11,089. In the following academic year, tardies increased slightly to 11,332. By the end of the 2014-2015 school year, there will have been an estimated 11,159 tardies. It seems that the change to the start time has reduced tardiness.

When consulting with individual students, pushing the start time of the school day back has appeared to benefit them in different ways.

Junior Jacob Kelly said, “I have more time in the morning to go on Instagram and Yik Yak.” So, socially the change to start times has definitely had an impact. However, the intention of its proponents was to improve students’ academic performance. The question is, has this actually happened?

“No notable change has happened since moving back the start back half an hour,” said Spanish teacher Amy Kosorek.

Physics teacher Valerie Risk expressed a similar opinion noting, “I just don’t see any students improving their grade due to the start time.” While teachers aren’t sure about whether or not late start times have actually improved students’ grades, there are other school officials who have a lot more to say about why it’s beneficial.

Mental health coordinator and Wellness Committee member Shelly Ball stated, “There is a great deal of research showing that when schools move start times later, students get more sleep, which results in improved academic performance, reduced truancy, improved mental health, and fewer health and discipline problems at the schools.”

In general, it appears that the late start has had some positive effects at Albany High School. Yet, the status of the late start is uncertain. There is a chance that these changes will be revoked. School Principal Dr. Ted Barone remarked, “We have it on our agenda, sometime in the middle of the spring or so, to evaluate the changes for this year and make a determination of whether or not to continue.” Students may have mixed reactions to ending the late start but it would be difficult to know the real effects until there is more definite data available. The collection of this type of data can only be produced after several years of implementing late start.

Dr. Barone, who has been a leading advocate for late start, is optimistic. “My expectation is that it’s something that will continue for at least a few years to give it a chance to really evolve and see what the implications are,” he said.

Meetings, surveys, and interviews should be held to evaluate the impact of the time change and to determine what additional changes, if any, are needed. In the meantime, students can enjoy the extra time in the morning to catch a few more Z’s.