In Greenfield, as in other communities across the United States, discussions about changing school bell schedules often focus on one thing – money. In other words, the issue is boiled down to monetary cost rather than what’s best for the children in a community.
Because Greenfield lacks sidewalks, state law mandates that our school district must provide transportation to its students. Several years ago, in an effort to save money on transportation, our district implemented a 4 tiered bus system. In a nutshell, this is why we have a 7:10 high school start time and staggered elementary school start times – not because they enhance student learning but to save money on transportation.
Over the past few years a plethora of research regarding the health, academic, and behavioral consequences of early high school start times and adolescent sleep loss has been published. We now know that students are not benefiting from early high school start times such as ours – which is among the earliest in the United States. For many families, the unintended costs and consequences of Greenfield’s current bell schedules are very real and in some cases can be profound. Here are a few examples.
Waking up way too early: First bus pick up in our district is 6:06 in the morning. That means that we have students rising for school as early as 5:30 and waiting for their morning school bus in the dark in our community without sidewalks. Common sense tells us that 14 and 15 year old kids need more sleep and shouldn’t be waiting for their bus before the crack of dawn. Are there really people in our community who think that’s okay? The answer is yes. Anyone who supports our current bell schedule by default also supports early morning bus pickups. They are inseparable.
First hour tardies: Research has shown that tardiness is associated with early high school start times. So it should be no surprise that Greenfield High School had 9,671 first hour tardies last year. It’s a huge problem that is disruptive to classes, impacts student learning, and takes up a considerable amount of office staff time. Stop by GHS any morning after the bell rings and you will witness a long steady stream of hurried half asleep kids arriving to school late. It’s like watching a scene from “The Walking Dead”. It’s a sad sight that illustrates a very real consequence of our 7:10 start time.
Daycare: In addition to having a ridiculously early 7:10 start time at GHS, Greenfield also has very late elementary start times of 9:15. This means that working parents in our community often rely on morning daycare for their young children. Not only is that a huge expense for working families, it also means that elementary school children can be in morning daycare for as much as 3 hours before school starts. As one elementary school principal told an ad hoc start time committee 2 years ago – these kids are ready for lunch or a nap when school begins. So you see, the current bell schedules impact little kids too.
So, how much will it cost to change the bell schedules? Two years ago, when I was on the ad hoc start time committee, I asked that exact question. The estimated cost for switching to a 3 tiered bus system was $87,000 – much less than the $208,000 price tag that was proposed in 2011. I don’t quite understand how the higher price came about. Hopefully, that will be addressed next time this issue is discussed before the Board of Education.
Changing the current bell schedules would be a wise investment of district funds – especially when one considers the potential for improved student achievement scores and the possibility of additional state dollars through Wisconsin’s impending school performance incentive program.
Are things really going that well in Greenfield that we can afford not to change the status quo?
For information on other communities that have changed or are considering changing their bell schedules, visit Start School Later at http://www.startschoollater.net/