GHS Freshman is Strong Voice at First School Start Time Input Session

Emma Schuren

Greenwich High School freshman, Emma Schuren spoke during the community engagement forum on Wednesday night at CMS. Credit: Leslie Yager

Emma Schuren, a Greenwich High School freshman, wasn’t planning to speak at Monday night’s community engagement forum at Central Middle School.

She and her mother listened to school bus consultant Tom Platt from School Bus Consultants present 7 options for new start times, all working inside the constraint of “twilight.”

Emma listened as a couple parent expressed concern over how a change would impact athletes and after-school activities. She listened to parents worried a later GHS start time would come at the expense of elementary schools.

“I know there are a bunch of people that say sports are going to be pushed back, and that’s going to be a big issue,” Emma said. “I have to say, I really disagree with that. They are just that — they are extra-curriculars,” she said emphatically. “Overall, school should come first, no matter what.”

“To people concerned with elementary school start times, I think it should be a little earlier than they are now, because I’ve been struggling to get up in the morning and I don’t want to put that on elementary school students.”

That said, Emma described her kindergarten cousin at North Mianus School as popping up effortlessly in the morning, eager to get to school. She said kids that age could probably start “a little bit earlier.”

After the meeting, Emma, whose mother drives her to GHS in the morning to buy back the extra half hour the bus would take, explained that although she likes to go to sleep on school nights at 9:00pm, homework can keep her up until 10:00pm. She acknowledged that’s on the early side compared to her friends, but she has to wake up at 6:15am, and the only way to get 8 hours sleep is to try to go to bed early.

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Consultant Tom Platt of SBC at the April 6 community engagement forum. Credit: Leslie Yager

Of the 11 parents who signed up to speak, none opposed a later start for GHS, which Peter von Braun said started at 9am back in the Ice Age, later moved to 7:50am at the “new” high school, and was changed one last time after the Mianus Bridge collapsed in 1983 to its current 7:30 start.

Tom Klein, with an 8th grader at Western and a GHS freshman, asked whether a new bus schedule would introduce inefficiences that would decrease over time as efficiencies are discovered.

“Maybe some of that tweaking would involve working with private schools over the course of 3-4 years,” Klein said. He suggested that bus routes could be optimized and ultimately lower the number of buses over time.

“I’m thrilled that the recharge day option is finally put to bed,” said Amy Badini, the parent parent of three Greenwich Public School students. “Kudos to Dr. McKersie for acknowledging that that is like a jet lag experience for our teens.”

“No option should run with an 8:00am high school start. It’s the weakest bang for the buck when it comes to the cost of change,” Badini said, adding that option 3 and 4, featuring an 8:00am  GHS start time should be eliminated.

Badini also urged eliminating option 6 and 7 on the grounds that research of schools that have changed their bell times shows no district likes starting school after 9:15am.

Badini thanked the PTA Council and CT chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics who are sponsoring a forum featuring Harvard Medical School professor Judith Owens, who will speak on adolescent health and sleep. The forum is on April 26, 7pm at Eastern Middle School.

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Tom Klein asked whether a new transportation schedule would evolve as efficiencies are discovered over time. Credit: Leslie Yager

Platt, who agreed with Klein, said the existing schedule and buses are the cheapest option because they have been optimized over time.

He said timing is ideal for the start time change because the district’s bus contract expires at the end of next year.

“You start with a solution that makes sense and is feasible for the community, and then you work to make it efficient over time,” Platt said, adding that the current system has been optimized over time, as would a new one.

“The only way you’re going to know the true, final impact of this is to settle on the times, reroute the entire system, redo the contract, consider all the variable –you can’t do that for every option,” Platt said.

start times

All seven options are all constricted by “twilight.” It’s an absolute no-no to have kids at bus stops in the dark, or dropped off in the dark.

Platt said currently the longest bus run is down the King Street corridor starting at 6:25am.

He pointed out that what is currently a 30 minute bus ride at 7:30 am may take longer at 8:30 am – or vice versa. A corollary to that question is that empty seats may be filled if school start times change. Specifically, parents may stop driving their children to school if start times are later.

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Sophie Dowling (PTAC), Cynthia Womak, (former Hamilton Ave School Principal, now Start Time project manager), Superintendent McKersie and Tom Platt from School Bus Consultants. April 6, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

About a dozen of the 50 parents in attendance voiced opinions. Some are just learning about the topic. One parent was surprised to learn that state laws in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island all require public schools to pay for school buses to private schools. The Superintendent said that, in fact, there are New York kids who are bused o private schools “on the New York dollar.” McKersie said Ms. Womak is working on a FAQ sheet to help get everyone up the learning curve.

Former Board of Education member Peter  von Braun, who has championed a later school start time for Greenwich High School, said, “For a long time the high school had athletics, after school activities, drama and a whole series of things when it started at 8:55am. So that is not a necessary constraint.”

Susan Capparelli said her 8th grader is already starting to struggle with lack of sleep. “She is going to bed later and later, as teenagers to, and is unable to get up in the morning without real pressure,” Capparelli said, adding that next year in order for her daughter to participate in band she’ll have to get up once a week at 5:30am for a 6:30am practice, which she described as ridiculous.

“I think we should not lose focus on the heart of the matter – our children’s health, safety and academic success,” Capparelli said. “We as a family strongly support later start times.”

Alex Weindling said it was good news that original projections of a $3.6 million price tag for transportation had become a more realistic, reasonable $1.6 million today.

He quoted First Selectman Peter Tesei’s remarks to the Board of Education last November: “Be bold and focus on the immediate impact such a change would have for our students. Don’t let the fiscal issue drive the decision-making. Look at the underlying research and information indicating the improvements of health of our students – that should take precedent.”

A handful of elementary school parents, including Beth Newman a North Street parent of three, said they didn’t want their kids to start any later because it would impact their work schedules. Christina Ali, who took the podium with her toddler holding her hand, pointed out that more and more families have two working parents. “It’s optimal to get all kids to school at 8:30,” she said. “But please don’t give elementary school or middle schoolers the short end of the stick.”

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Lindy Urso

Lindy Urso, a parent of two young boys, said, “We pay $1 million for a $350,000 million house because we want to live in Greenwich for the school system. A decision like this for the health of our children — the cost should not be the driving force.”

Mr. Urso recalled that last fall, the School Start Time committee pledged publicly that no elementary school would start before 8:00am. “A lot of elementary school parents were lulled into complacency.”

Fun Facts
Some fun facts: 25% of Greenwich children attend independent schools, though Dr. McKersie pointed out that some families use a combination of public and private for their children – or transition back and forth from public to private.

A survey of middle school and high school families will go out in a couple weeks – one survey per family so as not to give large families a bigger say. Dr. McKersie said it will important for people to fill out the surveys as the district seeks to winnow down the options.

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The seven Bell Time Change options are not final options. “We’re bracketing a range of options and will fine tune a solution,” said Tom Platt of SBC.

cardcrashedoutThe Superintendent said that the issue has really taken off on social media, and local news outlets.

A group of advocates for the later start time created a social media campaign involving a napping cardinal. The idea is for teens to take selfies with the life size school mascot and say how they would benefit from an extra hour of sleep.

See also:

#givememyhourback Facebook Photo Contest for Teens Announced in Greenwich

Greenwich School Start Time Committee Wants Your Input on “Bell Time” Options

Tesei to Board of Ed: Be Bold on School Start Time Change

Joe Siciliano: Change in School Start Time Would Impact Use of Fields by Parks & Rec, Travel Teams and Non-School Groups

American Sleep Association Calls for Later School Start Times

Later Start Start Time Advocates Press Board of Ed to Give SST Committee a Mandate

Tesei to Board of Ed: Be Bold on School Start Time Change

Delayed GHS Start Time? Sleep Deprived-Students Nap While They Wait.

If Start Time Science is Acknowledged, Does Delay Til 2017 Leave District Legally Vulnerable?

Greenwich Schools Superintendent Start Time E.T.A: 2017-2018

BOE’s Sherr: Start Time Steering Committee Members Need to Be Honest Brokers

School Start Time Forum: Parents Decry Scare Tactics, Warn Against Putting Budget over Teen Health


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  • John B.

    Nothing has changed with the students other than technology. Kids put down the IPad/ Cell phone and go to sleep. Parents stop blaming the Greenwich Board Of Ed. And You manage your children after school time.

    • Emma Schuren

      obviously you have never had a child in the school system. technology is not the problem. If you knew anything about this very valid issue, you would know that no matter what teens do, whether they put down the electronics or not, their natural adolescent sleep cycles are not going to conform to when they need to get up for school at 6 am. Their brain starts to release melatonin at around 11 pm. This natural sleep chemical kicks in at around 11:30, so that is the time naturally fall asleep. If they have to get up for school at 6, this is only giving them around 7 hours of sleep per night, which is not a sufficient amount to be able to function throughout the day. The problem never was and never will be the technology. No matter how hard they may try, the parents can’t change the wiring of their childrens’ brain. The only solution is to push back start times.

  • Maura

    Our knowledge has changed based on many peer reviewed studies and research about sleep patterns, circadian rhythms, and teens. This has nothing to do with electronics or parenting and everything to do with wanting better lives and improved health and wellness for our children.
    All phones are in our den, plugged in and silenced, at 9pm at the latest. It doesn’t make a bit of difference in my teen’s sleep patterns. I’d love to know how you force someone to fall asleep?

  • John B.

    For (Maura), You say YOU want a better life and wellness for your children. How did all these parents which are GHS alumni students survive. As far as “how to force someone to sleep?” That’s the parents responsibility NOT the Town of Greenwich. Would suggest exercise / outdoor activities. Looks like Dorothy Hamill and Steve Young’s parents figured it out. One other solution which would certainly be convenient would be to home school.

    • greenwichfreepress

      John B, didn’t GHS start later back then? I think it started later until the Mianus Bridge collapsed in 1983 and that’s when they pushed it back to 7:30 to avoid drop off when all the traffic was most snarled on post road.

      • Valerie

        Here are the facts from the GPS website:
        1933-1973 start time 8:55 a.m.(with an exception of one year, 1933, when juniors and seniors went at 7am while building under way.)
        1973: start time moved to 7:50 a.m.
        1983: start time moved to 7:30 a.m. (supposedly for just for three months to ease congestion post Mianus Bridge collapse.) Time never moved back.

        • Maura

          I graduated in 85 and I still have a copy of the schedule. We started at 7:45.

  • Maura

    I don’t want my children to “survive”, I want them to thrive. Every generation learns from the one before, changes based on new research and knowledge, and in response to changes in our society. I survived high school while without mandatory seat belt laws but that doesn’t mean I’d sit quietly and let my kids ride in a car without seat belts. I survived GHS by hanging out with friends in the smoking area and I would never let my kids do that today. Things change, knowledge change, and we change based on them.
    Thank you for your concern but they do get quite a bit of exercise. This issue isn’t parenting, habits, or electronics based – its simple sleep patterns and circadian rhythms which we now know are different in teens then in other periods of a person’s lifespan.
    THRIVE NOT SURVIVE. Every good parent’s dream for their child.
    What exactly is your reason for not wanting to change things?

  • John B.

    Greenwichfreepress, you state that the GHS start time moved in 1983 from a start time of 7:50 to the current time of 7:30. In the past ( 33Years )look at all the very successful graduates/ now GHS parents who are NOW saying their teenagers are tired. Studies conclude that kids today spend way too much time on social media
    At: Home ,School , and Definitely while driving. Lets stick to the facts please.

    • greenwichfreepress

      The change in school start time to earlier is a fact.

      • valerie

        Look at all the people who didn’t wear seat belts that are alive. Talk to an emergency room doctor and hear about all the ones who were gravely injured or who are dead. I never work a bike or ski helmet (until recently) and I’m fine; lots of people aren’t.

  • Maura

    First period started at 7:45 in 86 so it did change again after the temporary change in 83. My best guess is they pushed it back, again, to 7:30 when they added in the 9th grade.

  • Andrea Ornelas

    Option 2 will “win.”

    Get ready JC, HAM AVE, NL to wake your kids at 6 AM to get to school.

    Better start asking the BOE who is going to take care of your kids at 2PM when they get out and we are still at work?

    • Maura

      Andrea – all of the options have ALL elementary schools starting at the same time. The BOE decided a few months ago that staggered times for elementary schools was not optimal l and told the staff to design a plan that had them all starting at the same time.
      I’d be more worried about a 9:15 start and working parents needing to pay for before and after school care. With the current times, most can make do with just after school care unless they have to take the train into the city.

      • greenwichfreepress

        Andrea, you should speak out at the next open forum. Childcare provided. April 19- 6:30pm-8:30pm at the Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich.

        • Andrea Ornelas

          At the Boys and Girls Club, but of course. And, the timeline states they will announce the “results” at New Lebanon.

          I don’t believe it. ONLY HA, JC and NL will be changed to start at 7:30 AM.

          The Boys and Girls Club will receive a “big donation” from the United Way and the Alliance for Education so the kids can go there an hour early every afternoon when they get out of school at 2 PM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

          Forcing the working parents of HAM AVE, JC and NL to have to pay for afterschool childcare for 4 hours a day.

          So sad. These kids are going to be exhausted.

          But since the parent lobby for the high school students is a hundred times more powerful than the PTAs at the three Title 1 schools, these children will get the short end of the stick.

          I absolutely do not believe that the BOE will make a 7:30 AM start time across the board.

          That is a lie.

          No way that Parkway parents and Old Greenwich parents will be forced to drop their children off to school at 7:30 AM.

          There would be such an outcry among these schools.

          The BOE will decide on the option in which those who will complain the least and have the least power will be the ones affected.

          And this is why you will also likely see the principals of HAM AVE, JC and NL leave.

          Already the HAm AVE one left.

          They know they will have to get to work by 6:30 AM.

  • Jackie

    Id like to know the rationale behind these options. This entire debate began because study after study has shown kids need more sleep. Why is a 7:30 option being reintroduced at all, for any students?? And why is there an hour long gap between some school start time options, but only a half hour gap between others? For example, opt 3 has middle school starting at 8:15 and elementary school at 8:45, but opt 6 has middle school at 8:45 and elementary at 9:45. Huh? You need a full hour gap WHY?
    To me, 8:15 high school/8:30 middle/9:00 elementary makes the most sense, but nothing like that is being considered.

    • Valerie

      Jackie,
      You ask great questions. Our group Start School Later Greenwich that has parents of ES, MS, and HS and from all parts of town, HAS NOT AND DOES NOT SUPPORT 7:30 starts for ANYONE and our petition states it quite clearly. We want to have healthy school hours for all children – K-12.
      Our petition clearly states that! Let’s do what’s right for ALL kids for health, learning, equity in education.
      http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/later-school-start-times-1?source=c.em&r_by=14532100

    • Jodi Weisz

      You should chair the committee Jackie.

    • David Rudolph

      Jackie,

      I believe that data regarding pediatric and adolescent brain chemistry (their internal body clocks) suggests that our children would be best served by having the elementary schools start first and the high school last.

      “[A]t the age of 10 biological wake time is about 06:30.
      At the age of 16 biological wake time is about 08:00 . . . and at 18 biological wake time is about 09:00.”

      Source: Synchronizing education to adolescent biology: ‘let
      teens sleep, start school later’ 8/1/2014
      http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2014.942666

      • Jackie

        David, while I agree that a 7:30 start time is too early for the high school, it is also too early for our youngest students. Preschoolers begin school at 9am. For little five year olds to have to begin kindergarten the following year at 7:30am, heading to school in the dark some days, would be a radical, awful transition from what they’re used to. An 8:15 or 8:30am start for the high school would be a big improvement for teens. We also need to keep in mind that as freshmen in college, teens will start class every day at 8am.

        • David Rudolph

          Jackie,

          Perhaps some wires got crossed. I did not mention or suggest that any of the schools start at 7:30. In fact, I didn’t mention any specific start times.
          For the record, I’d like to see all schools start no earlier than 8 a.m.
          Maybe your mention of 8 a.m. college start times was hyperbole. If not, I think you are making a huge generalization that can be easily disproved. Let’s focus on doing what is best for our students while they are growing and learning in Greenwich, and not on what challenges our graduates may face as they move on to colleges and universities.

          • greenwichfreepress

            Amen!

          • Jackie

            What generalization are you referring to? I simply said that while I support later start time for the high school, I do not support it at the expense of our youngest students they should not be forced to go to school at 7:30, either. It sounds like we’re in agreement. No schools should start before 8am.

          • Jodi Weisz

            Jackie, you are spot on.

  • John B.

    Emma Schuren- I am truly amazed on this new Generation of parents that are so quick to blame the Board of Education / Teachers of their kids not focusing on their studies. As parents we must take a active role in monitoring are kids study habits. While on Facebook / Twitter and online gaming all through the Day and night and while driving around town surely is not going to give a sound 8 hours sleep. As parents how did we go to GHS and still play sports/ music or belong to a after school club and some students even had part time jobs ? We still did are homework, watched TV and then went to sleep!

    • Maureen Therese Sheehan

      John B – this parent (nor many – if any) is not blaming the Board of Ed. In fact, I am blaming no one. I, as is my daughter, am quite simply trying to put forth facts (somewhat newly revealed) that are pertinent knowledge in choosing the best option relative to deciding school start times. You need to stick with the issues. Parents currently with only younger children in GPS, please keep in mind (sooner than you think as time does fly!) that one day your kids will be at GHS and the now-start-time of 7:30am will directly impact your children. Please choose wisely.

  • Jodi Weisz

    I am concerned about Teachers’ commutes. They have families too.
    If their work day starts an hour later, they are going to be stuck in very harsh traffic coming in from Trumbull and Fairfield. This will likely add three hours to their day! This is not fair to the teachers of Greenwich who sacrifice to work here.

    Also, if High School students are not falling asleep until 11 PM or so, even if their school start time starts at 9:00 AM (an hour and a half later) assuming they wake up at 8:00 AM, this means they are still only getting 9 hours of sleep–when they need 10-11.

    So, we will have implemented all of this radical change for 9 hours of sleep, which, it is my guess, will STILL mean that we will have groggy students and stressed out mornings and now harried teachers AND stressed out elementary school parents.

    • David Rudolph

      Jodi,

      What would make things fair? You didn’t say. You object to an hour delay. Would 30 minutes be fair to both parties then in your view? Moving half way certainly sounds reasonable. Unfortunately, what makes things “fair” would result in school start times that the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association as well as many other medical and professional associations STILL deem to be unhealthy and lead to poor academic performance.

      If you reviewed some of the studies available, you’d see that teachers would directly benefit from later start times. How? Well, a study in the American Economic Journal (August 2011) found that “A later start time. . . has the equivalent benefit as raising teacher quality by roughly one standard deviation.” Thus, by showing up to work later, teachers will likely get better results. Better results make all interested parties happy.

      Data also shows that early start times REDUCE performance, particularly among disadvantaged students.

      “Early school start times reduce performance among disadvantaged students by an amount equivalent to having a highly ineffective teacher.” This is “equivalent to replacing an average teacher with a teacher at the sixteenth percentile in terms of effectiveness.”
      It seems that keeping these early start times is actually unfair to teachers by hindering their performance.

      I think a good way to look at these changes, which ARE coming, is that while their commute may be longer, their results will likely be better, resulting in increased workplace satisfaction and increased job security. I bet a lot of people, including almost all of the Greenwich teachers, would take that deal.

      Sources:
      http://www.cdc.gov/features/school-start-times/
      http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/let-them-sleep-aap-recommends-delaying-start-times-of-middle-and-high-schools-to-combat-teen-sleep-deprivation.aspx
      http://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/02/sleep-deprived.aspx

      A’s from Zzzz’s? The Causal Effect of School Start Time on the Academic Achievement of Adolescents
      http://dx.doi.org/10.1257/pol.3.3.62

      Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement: Start Times, Grade Configurations, and Teacher Assignments
      http://www.hamiltonproject.org/assets/legacy/files/downloads_and_links/092011_organize_jacob_rockoff_paper.pdf

  • Sarah Darer Littman

    David, while I agree that the research on this is clear (having written about it close to a decade ago in the Greenwich Time) one of the major problems in this town is that we don’t look at the budget holistically and that we don’t fully examine the follow on costs of our decisions. You say you bet the Greenwich Teachers would take the deal. Have they been surveyed? Because I know as a freelancer I turn down work in upper Fairfield County unless it is really well paid if it involves travel at rush hour. It takes a lot for me to attend an event for the same reason. The traffic is just that bad, and my time is better spent working on a book.

    My other question is about parents – has an effort been made to survey parents from all ends of the socio economic spectrum in Greenwich Schools? Because in families where both parents work, an adjustment like this where the youngest children go to school the latest could cause serious havoc with parental employment. That is a very real issue in people’s lives that must be considered – for the well being of all the town’s families.

  • Tori Daniels

    If the BOE is going to give in to the parents of High Schoolers wanting to start at 9 AM or thereabouts…they MUST insist that the PRIVATE SCHOOLS change their start times FIRST before insisting that the public elementary school students have to start at the ungodly hour of 7:30 AM or whatnot.

    A change to the High School should not come at the expense of the public elementary school students–especially those with working parents and those who have already fallen in the district’s poorer performing schools. Give the high schoolers more time to sleep but make the private schools change their bus and start time schedules.

    We taxpayers are sick of the achievement gap; any changes better not make it worse.

    As a freshman I took classes at 8 AM all the time and walked across campus from my dorm room and had to leave by 7:30 AM to arrive on time. It taught me not to party and not to organize my time and to respect my body by not getting involved with nonsense.

    I think the late start committee is partly being pushed by parents who do not want the headache of getting up early.

  • Jodi Weisz

    Teachers’ commutes matter.

    A change of start time to 9 AM will add three hours of commute time to teachers’ commutes.

  • John B.

    Concerned parents,
    Have your High school students shut off their smart phones and computers and go to sleep by 10pm and set your alarms for 6am.
    So 7:30 start time is fine. Parents need to take control at home .

    • Maureen Therese Sheehan

      John B. – You really need to just stop your nonsensical comments and become enlightened to what is real and what is not.

  • John B.

    Maureen Therese Sheehan- FYI 10pm -6am is a “real” 8 hours of sleep. It’s quite simple.