The Journal Gazette
Sunday, October 08, 2017 1:00 am

Local schools find benefits of later starts

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Principal Patrick Frerking isn't certain what first triggered Concordia Lutheran High School to re-examine its school day.

Learning that its students received less religious education compared with other Lutheran high schools might have been the first domino, he said, but other factors were also at play, including a desire to allow for more academic choices and getting rid of a lunch system that interrupted some classes.

Concordia is among Allen County schools that have recently made changes to the school day, whether by adjusting the class period structure or tweaking school hours.

Joshua St. John, a principal with Southwest Allen County Schools, sees value in reviewing the school day.

“Schools would be remiss not to analyze time as a resource periodically,” he said.

Non-education entities have also contributed to the conversation. The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2014 recommended middle and high schools start class at or after 8:30 a.m. to help more students get the recommended 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 hours of sleep.

Adolescents who lack sleep are more likely to be overweight, suffer from symptoms of depression and perform poorly in school, among other risks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fort Wayne Community Schools began using a later start time for its high schools in the 2015-16 academic year. Transportation changes prompted the switch from a 7:30 a.m. start to a 9:05 a.m. start.

The change hasn't solved tardiness, but it has improved what matters most, the Wayne High School principal said: students' readiness to learn at the beginning of the day.

“The kids are more alert. They are more able to engage in more challenging tasks,” John Houser said. “... They're not sleepy.”

The 9:05 a.m. start also provides opportunities for morning professional development, he said.

“We have much stronger collaboration, and the time to collaborate and learn professionally as adults is much more effective at 8:20 in the morning than it was after a day where you are tired because it's been a grind ... and you're beat and you're exhausted,” Houser said.

A schedule change also improved collaboration between SACS' middle schools, Woodside and Summit, St. John said.

The schools are in their fourth year of a modified block schedule. Previously, Woodside operated on an eight-block schedule – four 90-minute classes met one day, four other classes met the next – while Summit students had eight periods daily, said St. John, Summit's principal. Each had its strengths, he said, but the different routines made collaboration between the schools difficult.

Under the new schedule – which represents about six months of work by a committee – students attend all eight of their classes on Monday, St. John said. The rest of the week follows a block schedule – fewer but longer classes each day – he said, and it incorporates strengths from the previous schedules. 

Now, he said, there is more time for project-based learning and activities that have setup and teardown components, such as science labs.

“The change has been positive,” St. John said.

Although it's only a quarter into Concordia's academic year, Frerking already sees benefits of its scheduling overhaul, including making it easier for students to visit the restrooms.

“Just a touch more humanity's been brought into it,” he said.

Students may take eight classes per semester instead of seven. The modified schedule also includes longer classes, longer passing periods and a school-wide lunch hour, during which clubs may meet and students can get extra help from teachers. It also allows for eight semesters of theology instruction.

Senior Bethany Zeckzer appreciates the changes, although it took awhile to decide whether she liked the shakeup.

“How did I live with five-minute passing periods?” she asked, explaining she can now visit her locker after her first class with time to spare.

Having more time is beneficial for such classes as choir, she said, and the extended lunch provides a “built-in study hall.” She sometimes uses the time to play piano in a practice room.

“That's my stress relief,” she said.

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