Yarmouth considers later starts for middle, high schools

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YARMOUTH — The School Committee is considering pushing back school start times for middle and high school students.

Superintendent of Schools Andrew Dolloff discussed the possibility with the committee Nov. 12. The panel decided to seek input from the Student Senate and then form a focus group to look into options.

“There are a lot of different options to explore and there are a lot of different impacts to be considered,” Dolloff said. “This would have a (kindergarten) through (grade) 12 and community impact if we were to change our start time.”

Dolloff said the possible change was included in the School Department’s five-year strategic plan, which was developed last year. He said an internal study has already begun, and he and the School Committee have been reviewing literature on the benefits of later start times for adolescents.

These studies have shown later start times produce students who function more effectively in school, and don’t result in later bed times, thus allowing students more sleep. The research also found schools with later start times generally report better grades than schools with early start times.

A 2011 study by the American Economic Journal said because of circadian rhythms, “waking up a teenager at 7 a.m. is equivalent to waking up an adult at 4 a.m.” The study said having teenagers go to bed earlier isn’t a solution, because the circadian rhythm makes it hard for them to sleep before 11 p.m.

“A later start time of 50 minutes in our sample has the equivalent benefit as raising teacher quality by roughly one standard deviation,” the study found.

First period at Yarmouth High School begins at 7:40 a.m. except on Wednesdays, when the the school already has a late start time of 8:40 a.m. School ends at 2:25 p.m. every day.

Classes begin at 7:50 a.m. every day at Frank H. Harrison Middle School, where the day ends at 2:25 p.m.

Dolloff said School Board members hope the Student Senate will work with administrators, and then report back to the School Committee in February.

The committee will then a form a focus group, which would include Dolloff, the director of instructional support, an administrator from each school, the athletic administrator, two School Committee members, two parents, two members of the Student Senate, and two teachers from each school in the district.

The group will meet in late winter and report back to the School Committee with a recommendation in March.

The School Committee will then hold community forums where one or two options will be discussed. The committee is expected to make a decision by mid-April, so there would be time to make adjustments before the 2016-2017 school year begins.

Dolloff said looking at start times doesn’t mean anything has to change and that the School Committee could decide not to change anything. He said it’s important to explore the idea, though.

“It’s an important enough topic with enough research out there and enough energy out there that we can’t just ignore that if we are going to stay as we are, we need to make that decision thoughtfully, with a great deal of input, and at the end of the day if that’s the decision, at least it was done after considering all the facts,” Dolloff said.

Dolloff said if the start times are pushed back there will be a lot to consider, including family, day-care and work schedules. He said it would also affect co-curricular activities, athletics and bus schedules.

If a later start time is approved, Dolloff said he would want the School Committee to set a policy so athletics and other activities couldn’t meet in the morning before school. He said early morning meetings would defeat the purpose of starting school later.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.
  • Tom Bell

    Can we get head lamps for the kids on the ski team? That’s because they will be skiing in the dark.