Yarmouth schools to start, end 20 minutes later

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YARMOUTH — School days will begin and end a little later starting this fall.

The School Committee on May 26 decided to start and end the school day 20 minutes later at all four Yarmouth schools. The change was approved 6-1, with committee Chairman Tim Wheaton opposed.

“I don’t favor the push,” Wheaton said. “It’s not compelling enough yet. I hope it’s something I’m proven wrong on.”

The decision was based on research that shows students function more effectively if they are allowed to sleep later.

First period at Yarmouth High School now begins at 7:40 a.m., except on Wednesdays, when school starts at 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 also ends at 2:25 p.m. Yarmouth Elementary School and the William H. Rowe School both start at 8:20 a.m. and end at 3:10 p.m.

The 20-minute change was recommended to the School Committee by a task force, which has been looking at the issue over the past school year. The recommendation was also favored by parents, teachers and community members who responded to a survey in January.

Three options were presented in the survey: No change, having all of the schools start 20 minutes later, and a flip that would have had elementary schools start earlier than middle and high schools. When the results were reviewed and discussed at a forum in March, Superintendent of Schools Andrew Dolloff said the majority of people favored the second option.

Of the 718 people who took the survey, rolling back school start times by 20 minutes was marked “strongly favorable” by 37 percent of people, “acceptable” by 22 percent, and “not favorable at all” by 15 percent.

Dolloff on May 26 said pushing back the start time is “a step in the right direction” for teenagers.

“The issue didn’t come to us because of academic performance or student tardiness,” he said. “It’s before us because of mental health concerns.”

The task force has been reviewing research on the benefits of later start times for adolescents, which shows starting school later leads to students who function more effectively and doesn’t result in later bed times, which allows students to get more sleep. The research also found schools with later start times generally report better grades than schools with early start times.

School Committee members agreed that the mental health of students is a concern.

Philip Jones said he was “disturbed” after learning about stress and anxiety levels reported by middle and high school students. Jeanne Rapone concurred.

“If we were talking about vaccines or head injuries, we’d make a policy,” she said. “We need to treat mental health issues the same way.”

Laura Coroi said the change is a good start.

“If we start with a 20-minute push maybe it’ll do something to reduce the pressure these kids are under,” she said.

Yarmouth High School senior Cody Cook, a student representative on the committee, said some students don’t think 20 minutes will be effective enough.

“They felt like 20 minutes was just to appease someone and wouldn’t make a significant change,” he said.

School Committee member Margaret Groban shared the same concern, saying she doesn’t think the change is big enough to make a difference.

“I’ve struggled with whether this is enough,” she said. “I think it should be more.”

When making its decision, the School Committee also weighed concerns regarding elementary school students. Dolloff said he’s worried about the safety of children who would get off the bus later, especially in the winter when it gets dark earlier. He is also uncertain about whether younger kids can effectively learn later in the day.

The issue of before-school child care was also discussed, with Dolloff noting working parents may be concerned. He said Yarmouth Community Services has discussed offering services, but plans have yet to be made.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner

 

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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.
  • Dave Mason

    There’s another question that no one seems to be asking — additional research that needs to be completed. How many school children in Yarmouth come from families that aren’t in a position to benefit from the time change? The very fact that before-school child care has become a consideration, tells me that the number is significant.

    How many single-parent households are there? How many in which both parents have a work schedule that can’t be changed? Their children aren’t going to get 20 more minutes of sleep. The only change for them will be their destination — trading a classroom for a child care facility.

    I agree with Cody Cook. This seems like a way to placate a small group of vocal parents whose wheels are a bit squeakier. Here in Yarmouth we have our share of well-to-do families consisting of one working parent and one that stays home and tends to the kids. They are certainly in a position to take advantage of the extra 20 minutes. Many others are not so fortunate. It’s entirely possible then that this 20 minutes — as insignificant as it may seem to some — may serve to do nothing more than widen the gap between two large segments of the school population.

    A couple of weeks ago, before the final decision was made, I asked these questions in an email to a member of the school board. Part of the response I received informed me in no uncertain terms, that parental schedules were never a consideration. The only factor being weighed was the health and well-being of the students.

    Well, who can argue with that — as long as we’re talking about ALL students. This isn’t a case of what’s best for a few, or many or even most. If even one student is placed at a disadvantage in relation to their peers, then the school committee should go back to the drawing board and rethink the whole thing.