At 7:25 am, students trudge into the building, barely awake as they slide into their seats just before the first-period bell. Some carry coffee while others just hope they wake up before their test. Conversation is reduced to grumbles about how early it is and how much “I’d rather be asleep.”
The School Committee seems aware of the situation faced by Holliston students. On September 17, the committee released an email to Holliston Public School parents notifying them that later school start and end times were approved for the 2019-2020 school year, as long as the 2019 budget meeting confirmed funds were available for the change.
Holliston High and the Robert Adams Middle School will start at 8:00 am and end at 2:33 pm, a half hour later than the current times. Both elementary schools will shift half an hour earlier, beginning at 8:40 am and ending at 3:05 pm.
Some HHS students feel that the current school times are too early, preventing them from feeling adequately rested for the school day.
“I feel like having the extra half hour will help me just be more awake in the morning,” said freshman Chloe Drohan.
However, some students are concerned about the after school aspect of the prospective time change.
“Sports and other activities are going to go later into the day and I’ll be up later doing homework,” said junior Ainsley MacLachlan who opposed the change in school start times.
In 2014, Holliston students reported high levels of stress in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Superintendent Dr. Bradford Jackson formed a Task Force to discover the cause of this stress. From this Task Force, the School Start Time Subcommittee formed which looked into the sleep habits of middle and high schoolers in Holliston.
The subcommittee began researching ideal sleep schedules for teens and how to align school hours with that schedule.
Dr. Christopher P. Landrigan, a Research Director and Director of Inpatient Pediatric Care at Boston Children’s Hospital presented at the January 19, 2017 school committee meeting on why teenagers would perform better with a later school start time.
“It’s very well documented that adolescents, really beginning in about middle school, but certainly by the time everybody’s in high school, experience, biologically, a shifting in the timing of this [biological] clock’s output so that you’re basically phase delayed… about two hours compared to both younger kids and to adults,” said Dr. Landrigan.
Dr. Landrigan added teenagers struggle to fall asleep much before 11:00 pm which makes it hard for them to wake up at the early time required for school.
In May 2017, the School Committee issued a survey to students, staff, and parents of Holliston Public Schools pertaining to later school start times and analyzed those results in the fall of 2017.
There are many complexities to changing the school start times from the day to day schedule to student transportation.
HHS administration has lots to consider concerning the schedule and might need to change or move some pieces of it.
One aspect of the schedule that might be important to most is lunch- when will students eat?
If the schedule for next year remained the same and just moved back half an hour, third lunch would not start until about 12:45 which is possibly too late for students to eat. Ms. Bottomley said she is looking to assess this aspect of the shift with students and faculty.
“There are a lot of different thoughts around moving pieces of the schedule,” said Ms. Bottomley, who acknowledged that changing the schedule is not the purpose of this transition.
The School Start Time Committee is not responsible for changing our schedule. However, the administration does need to look at “what impact [the time change] will have on our current schedule and then [consider how] to make small tweaks,” said Ms. Bottomley.
However, Ms. Bottomley does not want to pass up an opportunity to “evaluate what’s working well and what we can improve on” with the current schedule. Ms. Bottomley is analyzing the current high school schedule and knows that there are aspects of it that possibly need to change for the new start and end times to work and is open to making those changes.
A shift in school start times will affect not only the in-school hours of Holliston students but also their lives outside of school.
Many students play sports and have after-school jobs while others “need to be home at a certain time to get younger siblings off the bus,” said Ms. Bottomley. Students also have homework and “need time to just go home and relax.”
Early in the 2017-2018 school year, members from the Start Time Subcommittee met with Ms. Bottomley and Athletic Director Mr. Matthew Baker to discuss the after school effect of the change.
Some students have mixed feelings about the change and need to adjust their current daily schedule in response to the shift.
“I’m super excited to be able to sleep in but I don’t want to have to leave school later with [the] extracurricular activities because then I’ll be getting home later,” said sophomore Riley Robinson, who also babysits and has a job, both of which she would need to push later due to the change in start times.
This change is not yet a definite as various monetary factors play a role in the switch.
“In order to make this work and have both elementary schools start and end at the same time it means that they need at the very least additional buses,” said Ms. Bottomley.
Placentino and Miller currently start and end at different times so the district can use the same buses to transport the Miller and Elementary school students. If both of these schools started and ended at the same time, then “they might need double the number of buses,” said Ms. Bottomley.
In addition to student transportation, various faculty members are affected by the time change.
Some teachers currently switch between the schools in the district as all three of them are on slightly different schedules. With the time change, those who worked in more than one of the schools could only work in one and the district would need to hire additional faculty.
If there is no money in the budget for the change, two things could happen. If decided the shift is a priority, then they would need to cut money from areas where it is normally spent to cover the cost of the change. If no money is cut, then the start and end times remain as they are currently, according to Ms. Bottomley.
Ms. Bottomley said that even though “we’re all assuming that this is going to happen next year,” the uncertainty surrounding the budget presented a challenge, but one the schools in the district are working through.
“The research is compelling about optimal learning times and learning environments for students, and every single decision we make as a school district should be about how to provide the best learning experience for students. So if part of that is reimagining our start and end times…then that’s what we should be doing,” said Ms. Bottomley.