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Jury still out

January 12, 2019

GREENWICH — Every student, parent and teacher seems to have an opinion on the school start time change at Greenwich High School, so three students decided to research the efficacy of the later start time for their senior project.

Many Greenwich High School seniors chose wide ranging subjects — from the Jonestown massacre to sexual violence and the #MeToo movement — for their work in Innovation Lab, the “school within GHS” that emphasizes learning through multi-disciplinary projects. This year’s examinations sought to dismantle engrained biases people cling to in controversial subjects.

But three students, Nic de la Sierra, Courtney Swift and Sophia Hernandez, kept their project local, and focused on the decision to move the GHS start time to 8:30 a.m. from 7:30 a.m.

The debate over a later start time raged during 2015 and 2016, and eventually, proponents of a later school day prevailed. The change created a host of complications, however, from increased traffic congestion in the morning and missed class time for students with away games and academic competitions after school, to less practice time for sports teams and complications for students with after-school jobs.

“Our overall conclusion is that it is too early to tell if it’s really been effective or not because it’s only been two years,” de la Sierra said. “We need three more years to tell.”

The students want to see more surveys of parents, students and teachers to measure the effectiveness in the coming years. They collected a considerable amount of data, but there isn’t enough yet for definitive patterns to emerge.

Before the change, it seemed that more people supported it; now, the students are seeing strong opinions on both sides, Swift said.

Hernandez focused on the public outcry about the school start time and the role the public played in making the change.

“Our voice is what pushed for this time change because parents are really involved in Greenwich,” she said.

Students participated in surveys and made social media accounts to voice their opinions. Swift said student council representatives brought it up often in meetings, and de la Sierra recalled writing papers about the change as a freshman.

The students looked at scientific literature on start times to see if there was a consensus among psychologists. Swift found many articles from psychologists supporting later start times.

“All psychologists are saying a later school start time benefits adolescents, improves athletics, academics and your time in school,” she said.

They also reviewed data from a survey of students in March 2018 and a survey of parents and educators in April 2018, both conducted by the Board of Education. The March survey addressed grade point averages, tardiness and absences, from a sample of about 1,800 students. The April survey addressed parent and teacher perceptions of changes in tardiness, attendance, focus, academic performance and classroom behavior, and sampled more than 2,400 parents and 900 staff.

Attendance rates increased among athletes and non-athletes across all grades. But the overall rate of tardies increased as well, with repeat ninth graders, 10th graders and non-athletes tardy more often, while 11th and 12th graders and athletes were tardy less.

Support for the later start time among parents and educators was mixed: More parents approve of the later start time, 48 percent, than educators, 33 percent.

Parents who are wealthy were more supportive of the change, while parents who are less wealthy were less supportive. De la Sierra said this divide along income levels has to do with how the later start time affects pick-up and drop-off for households with two working parents.

A large portion of parents believe that the school start time change has positively impacted students in numerous ways, although a majority of respondents also indicate that academic performance has not improved, according to the survey.

The GPAs of repeating ninth graders increased, according to data, while GPAs among 10th, 11th and 12 graders, non-athletes and athletes alike, showed a decrease in GPA.

Over half of respondents to the April survey reported that the change had not affected tardiness, absences, focus in class and behavior, but more parents believed the later start time positively impacted one or more of those categories than teachers did.

School personnel reported more negative effects from the change, including less time with family and friends.

The data was collected before the creation of the end-of-day “opportunity block,” the 30-minute period during which students can see teachers, work on homework, meet with a club or enroll in a seminar, practice sports, or leave for away games or academic competitions.

The free period was created by shortening each class period by five minutes, and was instituted so students who needed to leave early for games or academic competitions would not miss class.

Opportunity block helped de la Sierra and Swift, who are both athletes.

“It was really pressing to be released early and you’re missing a huge chunk of class,” Swift said. “The opportunity block is helping us a lot more.”

jo.kroeker@hearstmediact.com

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