Scarborough, South Portland moving forward on later school start times

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SCARBOROUGH — With the school year coming to a close, schools here and in South Portland are already planning to implement revised school start times over the next two years.

South Portland has approved later starts effective this fall, while Scarborough has approved a change for the 2018-2019 year.

The new calendar for Scarborough students will have high school students starting at 8:50 a.m. and middle students at 9 a.m., while elementary school students would start earlier, at 8 a.m.

Classes at the high school now begin at 7:35 a.m., 7:45 a.m. for middle school students, 8:20 a.m. for grades 3-5 and 8:50 a.m. for kindergarten through second grade.

Since the board approved the change for the 2018-2019 calender, the School Department has created a School Start Time Implementation Planning Committee. The committee, which is co-facilitated by Superintendent Julie Kukenberger and high school health teacher Mary Record, includes parents, staff and school board members.

The group is made up of individuals who were both in favor and opposed to the change.

Kukenberger said guests with special expertise will also be invited to relevant meetings.

“We are working on how we best implement change so students, staff and families feel supported through the change,” Kukenberger said.

The group held its first meeting May 17 and a second meeting is planned for May 30.

Schools that have later high school start times have reduced automobile accidents, truancy and absenteeism, gained a positive effect on mental health and lower rates of substance use, according to research. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

At the first meeting, members discussed why sleep matters and reviewed the AAP recommendations for hours of sleep from infancy to ages 18. They also reviewed research that indicates sleep deprivation has been linked to increased rates of depression, anxiety, suicide, increased alcohol use, crashes, athletic injuries and obesity, as well as poor academic and athletic performance.

Also reviewed were benefits of later start times, which leads to improved performance and better attendance.

During the next meeting, one of the tasks the committee will tackle is mapping anticipated challenges to the new start times and addressing possible solutions. For example, the group could create a master list of child care options in Scarborough with pricing and hours, to assist parents with schedule changes.

Kukenberger said one of the goals is to create a bank of resources for parents to support them through the transition.

South Portland

The city School Board unanimously approved start time changes at a Jan. 9 meeting.

Starting in September, South Portland High School students will start school 40 minutes later, at 8:10 a.m.; middle school students will start at 8:30, 35 minutes later, and elementary students will start at 9:05 a.m., a change of only five minutes.

Students will also see corresponding release times. High school students will end their day 35 minutes later at 2:25 p.m.; middle school students will end classes 30 minutes later at 2:45 p.m., and elementary students will end their day five minutes later at 3:05 p.m.

Superintendent Ken Kunin last year said too many students are getting fewer than 8 1/2-9 1/2 hours of sleep a night.

“Research clearly demonstrates that more sleep leads to better health, mental health and academic outcomes,” Kunin said in a memo. “We want these outcomes for our students.”

Kunin said the change doesn’t affect school policies, but will impact some bus times for middle and high school students.

“There is not an enormous change other than kids will go to school later,” said Kunin.

The transportation department will be working on the corresponding bus schedule that will accommodate the new school day. Parents will be notified about the bus routes in August.

High school and middle students could have an extra block or two to walk, as some bus stops may be consolidated to make runs quicker and get buses turned around to transport elementary students.

Kunin said bus stops for elementary school students will not be consolidated because administrators don’t want elementary students walking any farther to catch the bus.

The later start times are not expected to have much effect on after school fall sports such as football and soccer, which are already played under lights.

“We don’t want to put more activities before school,” Kunin said. “We want kids to get more sleep.”

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or msochan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

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