Jimmie Myers said he believes students in his zero period orchestra class are benefiting from the extra shuteye they’re getting this school year.
How can he tell?
“They laugh at more of my jokes,” he said.
Spurred by research even more scientific than Myers’ methodology, La Cañada Unified School District opted to start the school day later this year so the adolescents attending La Cañada High School and LCHS 7/8 have an opportunity to get more valuable sleep.
In 2017-18, the school day begins at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 3:14 p.m. Zero period, which is when a handful of electives (such as Myers’ LCHS 7/8 orchestra class) are held, starts at 7:28 a.m.
Previously, the day began at 7:45 a.m. and ended at 2:42 p.m. Zero period started at 6:42 a.m.
Since school began Aug. 14, students, their families and their teachers all have been adjusting to the change. Some people love it, others don’t.
It might be too early yet to conclusively determine whether the change is positive, but the district has plans to issue a survey in the coming weeks as part of its year-long evaluation of the later start time, said Jim Cartnal, executive director of pupil and personnel programs and service.
“This whole year is going to be a trial-and-error type of thing,” said Kristina Kalb, LCHS’s athletic director, who has had her hands full coordinating after-school athletic schedules. “If, at the end of the year, we have made progress toward helping kids be more successful, that’s what’s most important. And unless you try, you don’t know.”
The start-time shift was predicated on conclusions from the National Institutes of Health, the Center for Disease Control, the National Sleep Foundation and Stanford’s Challenge Success initiative, which all agree that adolescents need an average of nine hours of sleep a night — far more than LCHS students reported getting in surveys conducted last year.
LCHS students said they slept only 6 1/2 hours per night and LCHS 7/8 students only 7 1/2.
After considering that data, and some passionate testimony from community members on both sides of the issue, the LCUSD Governing Board unanimously approved the later start on its high school campus late last school year.
The board did not, however, opt to support Senate Bill 328, the proposal by state Sen. Anthony Portantino (of La Cañada Flintridge) that would have prohibited California public middle and high schools from starting before 8:30 a.m. had it passed the legislature. The board said it preferred to maintain local control and try out the later start time before advocating for it on a broader scale.
Last week, SB 328 garnered only 26 of the 41 votes it needed in the state Assembly, leaving it to be argued again next year, at which point LCHS might serve as a key case study for what does and doesn’t work about starting school at 8:30 a.m.
On the ground, sophomore Jessica Reyes said she is, in fact, getting more sleep. And she said she feels better for it.
“It makes it easier to concentrate,” Reyes said. “And easier to get to school on time.”
“Now just about everybody is on time,” choral instructor Jeff Brookey said. “Before, we’d never get started on time. It’s all around better. I’m sure it’s the same pattern throughout the school, kids are much more awake, and they come in ready to start working. I’m seeing a huge difference.”
He’s seeing another significant difference, too: His zero-period choir class — men’s ensemble — is the largest it’s ever been, with 75 students enrolled.
“Last year we started with a good 60,” Brookey said. “The main surge is with the young boys, the 7th-graders. I have 27 in this class … and they wouldn’t have done it [if the class started earlier.] I love starting the day with it, and they love it.”
Kalb arrives on campus well before 8:30 a.m., when she’s joined by those zero-period students, as well as many others, she said, hanging out in the Information Resource Center, waiting for school to start.
“I’m noticing there are still a lot of kids who are with me early, if that’s the time when parents can drop them off because they have to go to work,” she said.
But having some students on campus early is inevitable — and is OK, Cartnal said. “The morning has a rolling beginning vs. a crashing beginning,” and that, he said, allows for a calmer, healthier start to the day.
“It has certainly decreased the morning stress,” said Heather Wipfli, whose son, Ray, is a freshman and a competitive diver who uses the extra time in the morning not to get more sleep, but to get up early — around 5 a.m. — to do homework.
“He has always liked to go to bed when he gets home from practice and is exhausted from a long day,” mom Heather said. “The late start gives him a bit more time in the morning to get everything done.”
Laelan Wright, a freshman receiver in the Spartan football program, said he’s definitely getting more sleep, waking up at 7:30 a.m. instead of closer to 6 a.m. He does his homework in the evening, he said, but he’s feeling crunched for time then.
“I like it,” he said, “but I just don’t like having to end school later. Practice ends usually around 6-6:30 p.m., so I feel like there’s not as much time for homework — but at the same time, it’s helped me manage my time.”
The district trimmed time from passing periods and eliminated morning announcements in an effort to condense the school day and reduce the burden on students like Wright who have after-school commitments.
To save time, the “cut-outs” in front of the school on Oak Grove Drive are now reserved for the buses carrying sports teams, so they don’t have to fight the parking lot traffic. While that helps sports teams’ travel times it complicates departure for everyone else.
Kalb said she’s also eliminated the 10- to 15-minute buffer she previously added to travel schedules for athletic teams going to play road contests, which can begin as early as 3 p.m.
“Kids are getting there with just enough time to warm up,” she said. “Whereas we might’ve padded it to allow for traffic before, we don’t do that anymore and we pray for no traffic. And we coordinate with athletes to be proactive with their teachers: ‘I’m going to be missing on this day, when can I come in to make up work? Can I get ahead?’”
It would be easier, she said, if LCHS’s opponents also got out of school at 3:15 p.m., but she’s not sure yet that the later start across the board is the best case scenario for students, even if she’s game to participate in the test run.
“If you made it a permanent situation, kids are going to be getting home later from games on a regular basis,” she said.
And not just the athletes, she said.
“Think about basketball in the winter, we have three [freshman, JV and varsity] games that play back to back to back, and that last game begins at 7 p.m. normally,” she said. “If everything is pushed back, that last game is going to begin at 8 p.m. which means we’re not out of the gym until 10 p.m., which means kids who come to games to support on a Wednesday night aren’t going to be getting home until around 10:30 p.m. on a school night.
“The good news,” she added, “is that a lot of kids are coming a little bit later and they’re getting more sleep.”
Parent Belinda Randolph said her son, Matthew, a senior, loves the change. But her schedule no longer aligns with his, and she no longer has mornings to spend with him.
“If everyone has a different sleep schedule,” she said, “it is hard to have family time.”
Jarrett Gold, the LCHS 7/8 principal, said all of the input will prove helpful.
“I know [Superintendent] Wendy Sinnette has a big goal to review it and see how it’s working for teacher and kids and parents,” he said. “From what I see, if you take the average kid walking around campus, they’re more with it, you can see how much more open their eyes are.”