The transportation committee for Columbia Public Schools announced yesterday their proposal that high schools start class next year at 7:20 a.m., as opposed to the current 7:50 a.m. start time.
Part of a three-tier system beginning next year, in which middle schools would begin at 8:10 a.m. and elementary at 9:10 a.m., this proposal would leave high schools with the earliest start time. While students and teachers alike complain about having to wake up earlier for school, some groups of people would be more negatively affected than others by the change in start time, particularly those in athletics and the fine arts.
With the proposed 7:20 a.m. start time, zero hour and co-curricular courses that meet before school are left wondering how to adjust their schedules. For band and show choir, this proves particularly daunting, according to band director Steve Mathews.
For the first few months of the school year, the marching band meets on the football field at 7 a.m. daily to rehearse their field show. With sports taking up the fields after school, there would be few options other than to make students arrive even earlier. Mathews himself even believes that alternative is not a healthy one, much less enjoyable.
“It would adversely affect from what we’ve done before, particularly during the marching portion of the school year because we’re already down here at 7:00 in the morning,” Mathews said. “For me to gain back the time that I’ve lost, I would have to be starting at 6:25, 6:30 in the morning, which is not a healthy time for staff, teachers and students to be out, especially as the marching season progresses with weather [getting colder].”
For head coach A.J. Ofodile’s football team, a change in the school start time at all will bring negative affects. If the school day starts later, sports teams in general would have little time to practice well, he said, with a lack of lighting on the practice fields. With an earlier start time, Ofodile said, students involved in athletics may have to miss more school to go to away games. However, for him, the issue with starting the day at 7:20 a.m. isn’t an athletic one; it’s academics.
The earlier start time “would probably be better for sports because we’d get home earlier. The problem … is academically,” Ofodile said. “We already have an issue — I don’t know very many high school kids who are up an hour before they need to be, bright-eyed and ready to go. First hour, in P.E. especially, it’s that way, but just about every class it’s hard to get people up and going. The way a third hour class feels after lunch versus a first hour class is a whole different world. … I don’t know how being up earlier is going to make it more productive.”
Ofodile believes having to get up even earlier for school wouldn’t just affect students’ readiness for the day. The unwillingness to learn or function could in turn affect the eligibility of athletes if their grades drop. Not only that, but with lower grades for any student, their chances of getting into college and moving on past high school are going to lessen. While “that’s pretty crazy for people in the long-term scheme of things,” the ability of students to get help with their classes before school would also be almost unrealistic.
“I don’t know how much more accommodating you can be with the start time pushed up,” Ofodile said. “It’s easy to say, ‘Hey, come meet me at 7:15,’ but saying, ‘Hey, come meet me at 6:45’ is a whole different world, and who’s willing to do it? And even the best intentions, the following is just so much more difficult.”
In wake of the complaints and dissatisfaction of students and teachers with the new proposal, sophomore Jilly Dos Santos decided to take matters into her own hands. Unsettled after hearing that Dos Santos and her fellow classmates would have to arrive at school half an hour earlier next fall, Dos Santos created a Facebook group called Students’ Say, encouraging students to speak out and voice their opinions on the early start time issue.
The Students’ Say group had 461 members as of Thursday night and 55 followers on Twitter, involving students from all over CPS. Dos Santos said the main goal of the organization right now is to get the high school start times changed to the middle time slot, although the group also supports open campus lunch in the debate over open/closed campus for next year. Dos Santos hopes to alert students of their ability to change administrative decisions and their power in affecting what goes on at their schools.
“We’ve just been working really hard to get it out to students and teachers that just because the school district says something, doesn’t mean you have to take it,” Dos Santos said. “If you don’t agree with it or the majority of students or teachers don’t agree with it, you can influence it to some extent.”
CPS has yet to make a final choice on the start times of primary and secondary schools, but many students and teachers hope to have an input in the decision. Whether the reason be academic, athletic or a general wish to sleep, Ofodile believes logically, there is really only one option that would suit high schools best.
“Really the only viable of the three would be the 8:10, which, to me, 7:45 is pretty good,” Ofodile said. “We’ve got it pretty good right now, so sometimes, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But if that’s not an option then 8:10 is going to be the best for sports and stuff.”
By Alyssa Sykuta
What do you think of the district’s Transportation Committee proposal?
Additional reporting by Daphne Yu and Jilly Dos Santos