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The Costs of Greenfield’s Bell Schedules

School start time advocate, Dolores Skowronek, discusses the impact of Greenfield's current bell schedules on local students and families.

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/

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Lee February 23, 2013 at 07:38 PM
I agree with you Dolores. I am also perplexed how the quote went from $87,000 to + $208,000. How long does this bus contract last? Does that mean the school start times will never be changed? I know people have chided you for your beliefs, but I am glad the kids at least have you on their side. 7:10 am is way too early.
KHD February 23, 2013 at 09:47 PM
What I want to know is: If the studies say that melatonin is released between 11:00 PM and 9:00 am, What time zone are we talking about? This is never addressed in any of the studies. Lets say it is CDT, so on the west coast PDT, Melatonin is released two hours earlier. That means those kids could start school earlier? Or the east coast an hour later? How about in Honolulu where their Melatonin would be released 5 hours earlier. They would go to sleep at 6:00 PM? Then they should start school at 3, 4 or 5 in the morning. It is never addressed because I think that kids adjust to the time zones, thus, so does Melatonin release. If the kids and Parents are responsible enough to get kids to bed at the correct time, they will adjust. After school activities will just get pushed back and the kids will still get the same amount of sleep. This all a bunch of hogwash for lazy, unresponsible kids. Ohhh, I don't think the kids are on Dolores's side. I have asked alot of kids the question, all said sure, start later, but when told they would get out later, they ALL said forget it. Of course I asked kids that were responsible for knowing when to go to bed and got good grades. Don't punish the responsible kids for the ones ( and many the same) that can't seem to get their butt out of bed .
Dolores Skowronek February 24, 2013 at 01:39 AM
KHD, after reading your comment I now have a much better understanding of where you’re coming from. Honestly, it makes me sort of sad. Despite the fact that you have been pretty nasty towards me in other comments – I am compelled not to reciprocate. That would be mean. Your argument would only make sense if the earth were flat or if sunrise and sunset were the same for everyone despite their geographic location. We know that isn’t true because the earth is round and rotates on its axis. That was proven a long, long time ago.
KHD February 24, 2013 at 04:26 AM
Dolores, I haven't been nasty to you. It is a valid Question as to how different time zones affect the release of melatonin. It is kinda sad that you have been on this kick for 4 years because you can't get your kids to sleep on time. Honestly it makes me sad for your kids having to listen to you all the time, no wonder they can't fall asleep. When they get out of college are you going to tell their employer that they can't start work until 9:00 am as the study says it lasts until 24 years of age? I saw the video where you were egging your kid on to say how tired he was and how dark it was outside. Then you removed the Video because it was embarrsing. I NOW have a much better understanding of where you are coming from.
Dolores Skowronek February 24, 2013 at 10:27 PM
Thank you for the kind words Lee, I really appreciate it. I am very proud to be working with Start School Later and we are finally starting to make real progress. Last week our members successfully had bills introduced in the Maryland and Massachusetts state legislature. Our sister group Sleep in Fairfax was also able to get a bill introduced in the Virginia state legislature. Advocating for change is always difficult, but definitely worth it. Good thing I have a thick skin.
Lee February 25, 2013 at 04:51 PM
Gee I guess we know where you are coming from, and have been. Can anyone have an opinion other than yours? Your comments are just mean. Try to respond with respect and not what you perceive as cuteness. And I do not think that the kids that wish for a later start time are lazy and unresponsive. Where do you get off calling them that. And as for your UN-scientific study I say hogwash. Prove it!
KHD February 25, 2013 at 08:05 PM
Besides adjusting the timing of the clock, bright light has another effect. It directly inhibits the release of melatonin. That is why melatonin is sometimes called the "Dracula of hormones" - it only comes out in the dark. Even if the pineal gland is switched "on" by the clock, it will not produce melatonin unless the person is in a dimly lit environment. In addition to sunlight, artificial indoor lighting can be bright enough to prevent the release of melatonin. It is real simple, turn off the lights in your room at a reasonable time and you will get tired and fall asleep.
JD February 26, 2013 at 01:07 AM
What research has shown that that the tardies are the result of earlier start times? Sources please. Does it account for the increased numbers of open enroll students that must find their own way to school and are often late? A large portion of first period tardies can be attributed to about 4-5 percent of the student population that is habitually tardy and would be late at any time. These are students that go get coffee, hang out with their significant other too long in the hallways, or depend on other habitually late students for rides. Later start times would force student athletes to miss 7th period and possibly 6th period as well. These are students that actually show up to school on time and don't need to miss classes. Many student-athletes attend school more often and achieve more success in the classroom because of sports. Change the start times to games you say? Outdoor sports depend on daylight and can't possibly be moved later as it will be too dark to play on fields without lighting. Some sports have rainouts and makeup dates in which they can have 4-5 games per week at times. Should they miss 8-10 class periods?
JD February 26, 2013 at 01:07 AM
Changing the start time seems like a good idea and a good investment, but not when there are so many other ways to invest that money that would see a greater return. The number one priority should be making smaller class sizes and improving technology. 87,000 is close to two new teacher salaries and 208,000 is several new teachers that could help reduce class sizes. Research will prove that smaller class sizes are more likely to have a greater impact on students than changing start times, especially when it will only be 30 minutes to an hour difference. Ask "The Walking Dead" what time they went to bed sometime. For most, the answer will be a time that wouldn't get them 8 hours of sleep even if school started at 8:10. The solution is simple.... responsible parents and earlier bed times.
Dolores Skowronek February 26, 2013 at 03:09 AM
Examples of studies with conclusions regarding early start times and tardies. Two for high school and two for middle school: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20603459 http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/detail?accno=EJ779631 http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/detail?accno=EJ989056 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17680731 Studies regarding other consequences of early start times and adolescent sleep loss can be found on the bibliography that I compiled for Start School Later: http://startschoollater.pbworks.com/w/page/60413030/Entire%20Reference%20List
JD February 26, 2013 at 04:24 AM
That is not what I meant. Show me local data that the start time has caused tardies in Greenfield. The data should be available in comparison to tardies before the time change. (Compare percentages since school population has fluctuated). Also compare those tardies to the number of tardies once students have arrived. (There are plenty of those as well and start time is not a factor). What we'll end up talking about is a VERY small percentage of students. I don't disagree with your cause, and in a perfect world with full funding it might make sense, but in the case of Greenfield schools, more teachers (smaller class sizes), better technology, expanded tech ed programs, more counselors, a middle school police liaison officer etc. are all better ways to spend money. 30-45 minutes in start time change is not going to have an impact as meaningful as any of the above ways to spend that money. Changing the start time affects a small percentage of the student population that is late, while other uses for that money can affect more students, if not all of them. Have you ever thought about fundraising or finding a grant to make your dream a reality? It might be a better avenue to explore.
Lee February 26, 2013 at 04:20 PM
How do other communities with a later start time manage to get their kids to their after school activities? Your excuse is a lame one. My son went to GHS when we had a later start time and you know what, he never missed an after school activity and he never missed a class period to do so either. Further more, school does not revolve around sports! It is supposed to revolve around academics! And quit picking on the kids that do not lock-step with your viewpoint. Last I checked we still were in America.
Lee February 26, 2013 at 04:41 PM
Dolores, I leave you with the consolation that we indeed do live in a very narrow minded community. Just from some of these few comments I can see how mean spirited these people are. They even attack children that they don't even know or have a clue about. Just lump them up together and label them negatively if they don't think like they do. Shameful. Good luck with your quest. 7:10 am is still too early. Has nothing to do with parenting. They can all burn me at the stake too.
Nathan Reed February 26, 2013 at 05:57 PM
Kids don't benefit from starting school that early. It only further encourages kids to be tardy or even truant, and fall asleep in their first hour.
JD February 26, 2013 at 06:54 PM
Many other communities have kids missing 7th period as well and sometimes even 6th. Mentioning your son is anecdotal evidence and not part of a logical argument. What activities did he participate in? There is a good chance it isn't one of the groups that was affected then or would be affected now. Picking on kids? That is definitely an exaggeration of what I said and you called that reason an "excuse" and "lame," if you want to decry others as being mean spirited, you can't do it yourself and have credibility. I didn't say that school revolves around athletics, but athletics can be used as a tool to extend the classroom and is proven to get kids to come to school and try that normally wouldn't. It also builds school community. No one is asking to revolve the schedule around athletics. It's just that some of the consequences of a later time will also have a negative effect on learning, job opportunities, etc. for a part of the student population that is just as big as the ones that are tardy now. When making such a decision all factors need to be considered.
JD February 26, 2013 at 07:05 PM
I for one won't name call or "burn you at the stake." Everyone wants what is best for the children, just because some people disagree with how the money can be spent doesn't make them narrow minded, it just means that they have a different opinion. Again, show me how changing the start time 30-40 minutes would benefit ALL students more than reducing class size, increasing school safety, improving technology etc. The point is that there are much bigger fish to fry before dealing with start times. The budget continually gets smaller and smaller and tough choices must be made. If there was money for everything I'd be all for changing the start time. I am not saying it wouldn't be beneficial, I'm just saying that other uses for $208,000 are going to have a much more significant impact on learning. This is not a narrow-minded argument.

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