Delayed Gratification For SHS

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By: Alex Scofield
Published: 09/17/10

Adam J. Christensen slept in for an hour on Wednesday, then went to a dentist’s appointment. He did not need a note when he went to Sandwich High School after the dentist—in fact, he was not late for school. SHS changed its longtime custom of early-release Wednesdays when the September 15 school day began at 10:35 AM. It was the dawn, so to speak, of the late-start Wednesday era.

For the rest of the school year, alternating Wednesdays will have a 10:35 AM start at SHS.

These will serve as a professional development time for staff, while students largely view them as a rare chance to sleep late on a weekday.

Months before his senior year began, Adam knew this day was coming, and he took advantage by scheduling his dentist’s appointment. While working at a computer lab during first period, Adam said he looked forward to starting late every other Wednesday. “I’ll probably take the chance to sleep in a little bit,” he said.

That is what many SHS students did, including freshman Katie McNamara, who slept more than three hours later than usual. “I feel a lot better, because I feel more awake,” said Katie, who often wakes up at 5 AM on a regular school day.

Senior Lindsey E. Hogan also had about three more hours of sleep than usual. “Sleeping in was really, really nice.”

“I thought it was all right,” said senior Eric Moeller, who slept in for about an hour and came to school at 10 AM.

A solid majority of students who were interviewed this week about the new late start welcomed the change, but it was not unanimous.

Senior Justin C. Morris said he would rather have the free time at the end of the school day.
In the middle of a school week, Justin found himself unable to sleep in.

“I wanted to, but I just couldn’t fall back asleep,” he said, and he arrived at school half an hour early.
Freshman Nate Costa also was unable to adjust in mid-week.

“It was terrible. I was in bed for an hour [this morning] trying to sleep,” he said. “It’s kind of hard for me in the middle of the week, when you’re into the schedule.”

SHS Principal Ellin S. Booras was not surprised by students’ obsession with sleep, and the chance to catch up on it. Ms. Booras, along with school committee members and Superintendent Mary Ellen Johnson, considered research on optimal learning times for adolescents when evaluating the idea of late-start Wednesdays.

The science, Ms. Booras said, largely reflects common sense—sleep-deprived high schoolers are not in peak learning form at 7:45 AM. If only twice a month, SHS students will have the opportunity to fast-forward to a time of the morning when they are on their educational “A-games.”

During several snowy days in recent winters, Sandwich schools had late starts instead of canceling the school day outright. Schools did not need to make up the days in June, and the delayed opening days ran fairly smoothly, Ms. Booras said.

“That’s where we got confidence that this would work,” she said.

Karen M. McGrath, a technology teacher at SHS, said that late starts are preferable to early releases for students involved in sports or extracurricular clubs. Previously, Ms. McGrath said, “they’d leave school and have to come back.”

Some students came in early to use the computer labs, which were open at the usual time. Ms. Booras and Ms. McGrath expect that in upcoming months, there will be more students like Adam, who make premeditated and strategic use of the late starts. It is an opportunity for those in clubs like the yearbook team to use school facilities at their own speed, and students can form study groups, or simply take advantage of a time and place they can get together.

Behind the scenes is another incentive for late-start Wednesdays—school staff members are working on curriculum initiatives as part of the school accreditation process. “We’re basically writing curriculum,” Ms. McGrath said.

SHS is in the seventh year of a 10-year cycle for accreditation, and the school’s teachers and staff members on the school’s collaborative design team will use the time to work on curriculum initiatives and other school initiatives for the school’s self-study. The official term for it is “professional learning community” time, and Ms. McGrath said she found it easier to focus on the self-study in the morning instead of the early afternoon.

“We were very productive this morning,” said Mary Kelly, a technology teacher who is co-chairman of the collaborative design team’s committee on core values, beliefs, and learning expectations. “We started at 7:30, and we had a big ‘Box o’ Joe.’ ”

The next late-start Wednesday at SHS will be on September 29.


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