The principal from Sharon High School in Massachusetts came to the forum on pushing back school start times Monday night to talk about his school’s experience doing just that. His message? It’s hard, it’s courageous, but Sharon would never go back.
“Once the School Committee made the decision,” said Sharon Principal Jose Libano, “where there’s a will there’s a way. And if this is the right thing for our students and their growth, we had to find a way to make that happen.”
High school students in Sharon used to start their day at 7:25 a.m. Today they start at 8:05 a.m.
“If we polled our [high school] kids then, there was resentment, there was anger. “’We can’t do this.’ ‘How are we going to do athletics?’ ‘How am I going to get extra help?’ ‘How am I going to do clubs?’ ‘How am I going to get to work?’” Libano said. “If I polled 1,200 students now, I’d get 1,200 kids saying, ‘I would never go back to school at 7:25.”
Sharon students have some extra time during the school day to complete homework and get extra help because – unlike in East Greenwich – Sharon High School as a daily 40-minute study hall period. EGHS had study halls until six years ago, when the state Dept. of Education said study halls could not be counted as the required 330 minutes of daily instructional time.
But moving to a later start time was still challenging, especially in the areas of athletics and buses, Libano said.
In terms of sports, he said the school told coaches practices could not start before 3:30, roughly an hour after school lets out, so students would have time right after school to get extra help if they needed it or attend a club meeting. Interscholastic games had already been starting at 3:30. No change was made for home game starts but some adjustment was made for away games, depending on the distance traveled.
In terms of the buses, like East Greenwich, Sharon uses a three-tier system. Today, students at the middle school start their day at 7:45 a.m. and the four elementary schools start between 8:50 and 9 a.m. The change did not require additional buses.
In East Greenwich, Cole Middle School and EGHS start at 7:33 a.m.; Eldredge and Frenchtown start at 8:20 a.m. and Hanaford and Meadowbrook Farms start at 9:05 a.m.
“We followed much of the same process you’re following now. We surveyed our community. We surveyed our staff. We surveyed our students. We brought in a sleep specialist,” Libano said. “If you keep coming back to what is best for our young men and women, and their learning and their growth and their decision making – the science is crystal clear.”