By Andrew Cluley- AAPS Communications Specialist
Ann Arbor Public Schools will continue to look towards offering high school students more choice around when they can take classes in response to a survey showing community members overwhelmingly support starting school later. The Board of Education’s Performance Committee discussed high school start times this week, and a study session on the topic is planned in January for the full board.
In a little over two weeks more than 15,000 parents, students, staff, and community members participated in the Thought Exchange survey. Over 10,000 separate thoughts were shared and more than 180,000 stars assigned supporting thoughts. Preliminary reviews of the data showed the strong support for starting school later, with a more in depth study of the survey expected by the board’s study session.
It’s a topic that AAPS and many schools across the country are grappling with as studies have shown that the natural sleep schedule for teens results in better academic performance if high school start times are pushed back to 8:30. Executive Director High School Education Paul DeAngelis says the conversation often becomes start times versus issues like transportation, after school activities, or parent work schedules. He hopes to change that conversation in Ann Arbor. “The conversation should be about how can we develop a more comprehensive high school schedule that does allow and offers the flexibility that we certainly want to have for our students and that could support a later start time,” DeAngelis says.
Over the last few years the district has taken some steps towards offering students the opportunity to start their day later. Starting in the 2015-16 school year high school start times moved to 7:45. The Pathways to Success Academic Campus now offers morning, afternoon, and evening programs. Community High School has started to include afternoon and evening classes as well. Dean Marci Tuzinsky says the growth in online and community resource classes is another way to give students more choice about when they go to school. “In terms of engaging students you want students to be taking things that are interesting for them, at their level, and also flexible,” says Tuzinsky. “Some of our students love taking early morning classes because of their afternoon stuff, and for a lot of kids they do everything they can not to take a first or second block, we actually offer far less classes in our first and second block than I do the rest of my schedule.”
While an advisory group will be looking at a wide-variety of options, Superintendent Jeanice Swift says one tactic some districts have used won’t be considered by AAPS. “We are not recommending, and would not be in support of flipping another level to this early start time,” Swift says. She adds an important goal is to avoid creating new problems in the process of addressing the start time issue.
School Board Trustee Andy Thomas is pleased the district won’t be considering starting other levels earlier. “If it is not good for high school students to be walking to school in the dark at 7:30 in the morning, it’s not good for kindergarten students to be walking to school at 7:30 in the morning, in the dark either.”