Administrators consider later start times

Neya Thanikachalam, Editor-in-Chief

Even through the phone, it’s easy to tell that Naperville Central junior Kyle Havemann is laughing as he tries to decide whether he would benefit if the school day shifted so that it would start and end later.

“I’m always up late working, so late starts are nice, and they give me the opportunity to get a little more sleep, like closer to the amount I should be getting,” Havemann said. “But after school things would be pushed back if the school day was later, and that would cause the same problem where I’d be up even later, and it wouldn’t be any different, it would just be shifted.”

The school’s schedule will remain unchanged next year, but District 203 is planning on pushing start times later in the day. If implemented, this change would consequently shift the end of the school day.

The effort to change the school day schedule began when the district gave members of the community, which included teachers, parents and students, a school calendar and start time survey and hosted community engagement sessions.

Through this, it was found that a majority of parents, students and teachers thought that starting high school later would be more beneficial for students and that student health and well-being needed to be prioritized.

The schedule was changed this year with the addition of a late arrival weekly, during which teachers could have a Professional Learning Community (PLC) meeting and increase teacher collaboration.

“[Teacher collaboration] wasn’t adequate so that’s why we created the schedule were using this year which is one late arrival per week so now teachers have one day a week to share and collaborate which is better for our students,” principal Bill Wiesbrook said.

Right now, the district has two committees, one for junior high schools and one for elementary schools, that are evaluating the different factors that must be taken into consideration for making such a shift, like transportation.

“Based on what we hear from those two committees, we’ll look at all three levels, the elementary, junior high school and high school and determine what our future might look like,” District 203 superintendent Dan Bridges said.

There are many factors that the district must take into consideration before shifting schedules.

“Just changing the high school start time would change the junior high school start time which would change the elementary school start time,” Bridges said. “It can change parents’ schedules, it will change work schedules [and] traffic. If we change the length of the school day, it impacts our agreement with our unions.”

However, Havemann’s mother, Julie Havemann, is not convinced that pushing the start and end times would affect her son’s sleep schedule in any way.

“You do kind of wonder, would they actually be getting more sleep?” J. Havemann said.

Even school nurse Beverly Schulz does not believe that start times are going to have a significant effect on teenagers’ health.

“I think [sleep is] like muscle memory,” Schulz said. “It’s not really the time, it’s the consistency.”

Schulz is also worried that pushing start and end times would cause problems with lifestyle.

“You have to think of what science shows and what is practical,” Schulz said. “Sometimes waking up earlier feels like it could balance your life more […] We’re always teaching life rules. Is your mom using AB or BC Calc? But she for sure is using being on time for school.”

In order to see if there were benefits to changing the schedule, the Central Times spoke to Dr. Brian Harris, the superintendent of District 220, the Barrington school district. They had just implemented changes in their schedule this past school year.

Barrington High School and middle schools now start and end later, while elementary school starts earlier and ends earlier. Harris believes that students benefit from the change, especially high schoolers, whose start time was shifted over an hour to 8:30 a.m.

“By Thursday and Friday every week kids were very exhausted and not feeling well,” Harris said. “Barrington High School is very similar to Naperville Central — very high-performing and students are involved in a lot of activities.”

The decision was made after holding community meetings and surveys, similarly to what District 203 has done.

The Central Times also spoke to Darnell Weathersby, the assistant principal of buildings and operations and discipline at Plainfield North. Their school day starts even earlier than Central’s, at 7:05 a.m. However, there hasn’t been a push to change start times.

“To adjust our schedule would cause us to adjust the rest of the district as a result,” Weathersby said. “Not all of us have reached an agreement on having that done […] Bus schedule plays a significant role in the decision.”

Despite all the complications, Bridges expects to see a change in school schedules in the future.

“A personal goal for me would be to see our high school start at 8:30 or later,” Bridges said. “That’s what I would like to see. I think the survey supports that, our community supported that, our research supported that. But I know that one change has a significant ripple effect on a number of things in our school district and we have to take them into consideration.”