Better late?

ESCANABA – Does beginning classes a little later in the morning improve student performance?

It may, according to research conducted by the University of Minnesota.

Their study, as reported by MLive.com, centered on 9,000 high school students in Minnesota, Colorado and Wyoming, and found that when classes began at 8:30 or later, students had higher grades and better attendance rates. The number of car crashes involving teen drivers also dropped by 70 percent, according to the study.

By delaying the start time to 8:35 or later, more than half of students were able to sleep eight hours or more, researchers concluded, which leads to better outcomes.

Though most area high schools begin classes around this later start time, both Escanaba Junior and Senior High School students begin about an hour earlier – at 7:35 a.m. to be exact, though according to High School Principal Doug Leisenring, this was not always the case.

“When I got to the high school seven years ago, we were at a 7:55 start,” he said.

This start time, a mere 20 minutes later than the current high school start, was when the district had more bus routes. However, with budget cuts the school now has fewer routes and needs more time between elementary and high school bus routes to get students to where they need to be.

“I think from a secondary standpoint…we would love to have a later start because we’ve seen that research too,” said Leisenring. “We think it would make a lot of sense to have high school start at 8:30 or 8:45. Unfortunately what’s happened is because we don’t have the bus routes that we used to have, we had to flip that around.”

High school students take the earlier start time so buses can pick up elementary-aged students later in the morning to prevent the youngest kids from waiting for the bus when it’s still dark outside.

Parents have also supported the earlier start time at the high school and later start time at the elementary level, as highlighted by a parent survey on school improvement initiatives in the school district, said Leisenring.

“Parents were overwhelmingly against it (swapping the times) and their major concern, even though our young kids can handle the early start, was the logistics of trying to get them here,” he said.

On the other hand, one benefit of an early start time at the high school is students get out of school earlier which helps those with after-school jobs, athletic practices, and extracurricular activities.

As for the research data showing a drop in teenage car accidents, Leisenring said though the high school has had some accidents in the past, they really don’t have that many overall.

But he reiterated starting later could be a viable option in the future.

“There’s real physical evidence that high school kids do function better later,” said Leisenring, who also noted he would welcome other changes to the school day or the calendar year.

Take for instance, having school year-round. The school calendar is still built around the agrarian calendar where originally students had their summers off to help their family on the farm. Today, said Leisenring, very few students work on farms, yet the school year is still based on this agrarian calendar.

“That would be another thing down the road,” he said. “I wouldn’t be against a year-round school. Some of these schools do nine or 10 weeks on and then they take three or four weeks off and they keep going, and the research shows that’s really good too. We’re not at a time right now, when we’re dealing with declining revenues and trying to maintain all of our programs, to make those kinds of decisions, but there’s some real possibilities of doing some really neat things when you can afford it and finances are a little better.”