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Parents to Formally Request Schools Explore Later Start Times

Citing studies that show students do better with later start times, a group of parents has formed a local chapter of Start School Later, circulated a petition and will make a formal request to the EG School Committee.

A group of parents on Tuesday night will ask the East Greenwich School Committee to form an ad-hoc committee in the hopes of exploring the idea of a later school start time for middle and high schoolers.

The group has joined the Start School Later campaign, forming a local chapter. At the same time, they've circulated a petition that has garnered more than 150 signatures from parents who agree that starting school at 7:35 a.m. is too early for health, safety and academic reasons.

"What we'd really like to do with the ad-hoc committee is get teachers, coaches, parents — whoever is interested and get together to talk about what the obstacles are," said Catherine Rodgers, a parent helping lead the initiative. "There are creative ways a school can adapt — none of the obstacles cannot be overcome."

Parents have been meeting for months on an informal basis leading up to now, Rodgers said. And they all agree — the effort to push school start times later in the morning is rooted in science.

Studies and experience shows that adolescents and teenagers are biologically wired to stay up later and get up later in the morning. It also is evident that students who get to school with an extra hour of sleep or more do better in class, pay attention more and otherwise learn more while in school.

There are safety reasons, too.

"Kids are catching buses at 7 a.m. in the winter in the dark, standing on dark street corners," Rodgers said, noting that many students participate in music activities, such as at Archie R. Cole Middle School, where they arrive as early as 6:35 a.m. to participate.

And children today are encouraged to participate in after school activities and sports, so they're coming home later in the afternoon with homework still to do. So the suggestion that they get to bed earlier leaves the question: when would they get to do their homework?

"There's just so many safety issues involved, as well as reduced tardiness and delinquency and academic success," Rodgers said. "In all the studies that that have to do with sleep levels in teenagers — biologically, they're more inclined to fall asleep later and wake up later. There's something about the circadian rhythm with this particular age group."

Other issues relate to when students get home and the end of the school day. Since many working parents don't get home until after 5 p.m., that leaves a two- to three-hour window of time in which children are often unsupervised at home.

The group, which has been using a Facebook group in addition to the petition and SSL chapter membership to raise awareness of their plans, is aware of the uphill battle in changing school start and end times.

The reality is that a school community gets used to routine. Athletic teams have practice and games after school. The bus schedules would have to change, and that means other school districts and out of district placements would have to be changed. Day care and babysitters would be looking at a new reality. Morning and afternoon routines would be upended.

But that comes with the territory, Rodgers said, and what they've found in looking at other school districts is that "the community adjusts accordingly," Rodgers said.

"There are creative ways to make sure athletes get to games on time," she said, noting that some districts moved physical education classes at the end of the day and gave athletes the opportunity to be released early for practices and game days.

Any adjustment period in the beginning gradually becomes the new normal and eventually, people soon forget about the challenges during the transition and quickly adjust to the new routine. And neighboring communities often end up emulating the district that moves start times later, which means conflicts with schedules tend to evaporate as more and more districts fall in line with the later-start paradigm. 

"None of the obstacles cannot be overcome," Rodgers said. 

The group's approach has been methodical and diplomatic. Rodgers noted that school officials have been receptive and thoughtful in their responses in several informal meetings. So far, the parents, including a sleep expert, have attended recent School Committee meetings to raise awareness about their concerns. To make their ideas a reality, however, they need more support from parents and the blessings of the committee.

Hence the formal request Tuesday night, which the parents behind the push for later start times hope is well received. Since the School Committee recently voted to form an ad-hoc committee to explore the possibility of all-day kindergarten in East Greenwich, now seemed like the right time to make the request.

"We're hoping the ad-hoc committee will give people the opportunity to explore these obstacles so we can get as much support as possible," Rodgers said.

The School Committee meets at 7 p.m. in the Archie R. Cole Middle School Library.
NK Parent May 06, 2014 at 09:48 AM
This should we a State-wide initiative. High School start times are just ridiculously early and definitely counter-productive to learning. It seems every time the budgets get tight a bus route is dropped and the start times get even worse.
EG May 06, 2014 at 10:05 AM
There are too many school districts, too many schools, too many superintendents and too many principals in RI. The state should take over.

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