Charlottesville mulls earlier start time for elementary students, later times for secondary schools - The Daily Progress: News

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Charlottesville mulls earlier start time for elementary students, later times for secondary schools

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Posted: Saturday, March 15, 2014 10:15 pm

The thought of sending her two children off to Greenbrier Elementary School 40 minutes earlier each day left Jasmine Fardad wincing as if in pain.

“It’s too hard for me to get everything done now,” she said, deep lines furrowed across her brow. “I won’t be able to get everyone ready.”

It’s a pitch that could turn Charlottesville’s school schedule topsy-turvy – filing pre-kindergarten and elementary students into classes earlier so middle-schoolers can get more sleep and a later start in the morning. High-schoolers, already with the latest start time of the grade tiers, would take to their desks five minutes later than usual.

School Board officials are mulling the change based on studies that show the nation’s teenagers are sleep-deprived. Their health and grades would benefit from a later day, according to studies by the nonprofit Brookings Institution and Harvard University as well as others.

A Charlottesville School Board public hearing is set for March 24 and a decision could come by early April. A new schedule, if adopted, could kick off with the 2014-15 school year.

“Everywhere I go I hear something about this,” School Board Chairman Juandiego Wade said. “This has kind of sparked a lot of discussion.”

The debate comes after years of local parents pointing to the research and calling for a change, said Assistant Superintendant James Henderson.

“What’s the biggest shock to me, with all the research, is that most school divisions have their high schools starting early,” he said.

Teenagers, thanks to hormonal changes, were built to hit the sack late in the evening and greet the morning sun even later than the rest of the world, according to a 2012 study by Education Next.

“Later [school day] start times have the potential to be a more cost-effective method of increasing student achievement than other common educational interventions such as reducing class size,” the study states.

Such research has grabbed the attention of politicians, with a failed push in 1999 to make 8:30 a.m. the earliest that schools in the United States could start, the National Sleep Foundation noted.

Under the initial Charlottesville proposal, pre-kindergarten and elementary school students would start at 7:50 a.m. instead of 8:30 a.m. They would end the day at 2:30 p.m., 30 minutes earlier than currently.

Middle school would start and end 40 minutes earlier, at 8:20 a.m. and 3:10 p.m.

High school would start at 9:05 a.m. and end at 3:50 p.m., both times five minutes later.

Anna Harrison, who has a daughter in Buford Middle School, initially was skeptical about possible tinkering with a schedule that has been the Charlottesville norm for decades.

She quickly warmed up to the proposal after realizing her daughter’s day might change for the better.

“I was excited … because it sounds like it gives her more time in the morning,” Harrison said.

Looking at the other side of the scenario is Nicole Ruzek, who now wonders where she would find quality time to spend with her daughter, who attends Greenbrier Elementary.

Her best chances for mother-daughter moments come after school, she said. An earlier school day likely would mean an earlier bed time for her daughter.

“I just have that little time … with her,” Ruzek said.

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