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.