UCS rethinks school start times

Community surveyed as district explores moving back start times for high schools

Hannah Piasecki & Alexa Reynolds Design & Graphics

Hannah Piasecki & Alexa Reynolds Design & Graphics

Following expert advice that middle schools and high schools should start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., some schools have pushed back their start times, and Utica Community Schools has taken notice. After releasing information and providing an opportunity for community members, including students, to provide feedback, the topic of has caused students, teachers, and parents to debate its merits.

“We, as a community, think that the research is saying that late start times would benefit students,” Utica Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Christine Johns said. “We were familiar with that research, and anytime we have something that’s going to have a large scale impact, we really do need to involve our community.”

Students who participate in sports are anxious to hear if the district will approve late start. As multiple sports have to base their schedule times around having a varsity, junior varsity, and freshman team, some fear that finding a reasonable time to practice may become more difficult.

“Practice would probably start right away and I wouldn’t be able to do anything like eat and change,” sophomore Ava Hallam said. “I’d get home later than I would usually, and I’d have to do homework and stuff. Especially because I’m going to be a junior next year, I’m going to have a lot of AP classes and I’ll have the SAT to study for.”

Students at South Lake High School, located in St. Clair Shores, have been adjusting to various aspects of their school’s late start schedule, which was implemented in the previous school year.

“Before it happened a lot of students were very excited for it. They were all really looking forward to being able to sleep in later and having more time to get ready or do some extra homework before school. Initially, it really seemed like it would be super beneficial for getting more sleep,” South Lake senior Mary Dupuis said. “Now that the changes have been put into place a ton of kids I know, including myself, don’t really like it at all. Since we get out so much later in the afternoon, all after school activities and practices are pushed back, so a lot of kids don’t even get home until 7 at night. Yes, we start later so kids can potentially sleep longer; but that doesn’t help me much seeing that I’m always up really late doing homework, anyway, after practices and such.”

South Lake high school, however, has a “Period 0,” which is an optional class for AP students.

“During junior year when late starts were implemented, I had a zero hour where I would come to school an hour early for class,” South Lake senior Isabel Aubin said, “and in turn could leave an hour early because I still had a full schedule.”

“I don’t know of a single student that actually attempts to go to bed earlier and get more sleep at night due to the later start. It’s a great idea, but in reality it just doesn’t work out that way. It can be seen as a bit of a cushion for when you do go to bed later because you know that you can sleep in later. But overall it just hasn’t changed anyone’s sleeping habits, mine included. Everyone is always up late regardless.””

— South Lake Senior Mary Dupuis

Although the district has been highlighting the benefits and setbacks student athletes will face, other extra curricular programs, like band and theater, may also run into issues. The marching band occasionally has night practices on the football field, as well as practices from 3:30-5:30 p.m.

“I think the sample schedules shown focused mainly on student practices, and not students who have different extra-curricular activities,” senior Mackenzie Robertson said. “But [band has] practice from six to eight and with this late start, it would have to be pushed back to seven to nine, which could cause various issues.”

Currently, sports and activities that include freshman wait for them to get out of school and ride a bus over to Utica.

“It’s a bit concerning for me and all of the students,” band teacher Brett Bays said. “We would have to change around all our practice times and dates to make time so the freshman students have enough time to get here and practice after the high schoolers are done.”

While extra-curricular activities could be affected if this change eventually is put into action, some students are worried about homework time, especially students who are involved in AP and AVID classes, which require more work than a normal class.

“If we start late, we will have even less time for homework, especially for ones who do out of school activities or sports,” junior Haydar Hassan said. “This will make everything worse than it already is, and will make my three hours of homework per night go a little later then normal.”

Although a majority of students polled oppose late start, there are students who believe the later wake up time could be a positive thing.

“I feel like it [late start] can help students and teachers alike get more sleep,” sophomore Jenna Livingston said. “With that extra sleep, it could really help kids stay focused in class and people wouldn’t always be half asleep in classes.”

Students’ test scores and grades usually stay the same or increase when schools start later, and statistics show a decrease in anxiety or depression in these schools, as well.

“Although I think starting later is good in theory,” South Lake senior Layla McMurtrie said, “it causes a lot of problems at the same time that doesn’t really make it worth it.”

Aubin offered advice for students that may someday find themselves moving to a later start.

“With anything, changing the start time has definitely been something to adjust to, but in the end everything tends to work itself out,” Aubin said. “Going with the flow is the best thing to do, and instead of worrying about all of the issues that might arise, it is much better to move forward and think of the best ways to solve those problems then dwelling on them.”

Hannah Piasecki & Alexa Reynolds Design & Graphics

The district isn’t currently leaning in one direction on this decision. They have compiled responses from surveys that were given to students, teachers, and parents. In addition to this survey, Johns and Utica Community Schools Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Robert Monroe are creating a School Start Time Advisory Committee.

“The committee would be comprised of around 18-20 different community members,” Monroe said. “When I say community, that could mean parents, that would be teachers, that would be administrators, and that would also be central office administrators. The central office administrators would [provide] the expertise on transportation and athletics and things of that nature.”

The research for late start is still in the early stages, and at this moment Johns doesn’t have an opinion on implementing a late start for UCS.

“I don’t have a personal opinion on it,” Johns said, “because I really want to respect the process that the board of education has established.”

Alexa Reynolds & Hannah Piasecki graphics & design