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Ashland High considers new schedule

For those Ashland High School students who struggle to roll out of bed in time to make the 8 a.m. first-period bell, relief may be on the way. But it won’t come without a cost — namely, the district’s budget and the length of lunch.

The school is considering making significant changes to its bell schedule starting as soon as the 2016-17 school year in an effort to increase instructional time and conform to a growing amount of research — including a recent study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) — which has shown that later start times align adolescents more closely with their biological sleep rhythms.

The proposed 2016-17 bell schedule is available on the Ashland High School website on a webpage that also includes a breakdown of the most significant changes, a rationale for why the district is considering such a move and a link to a survey open to both parents and students.

The survey asks respondents to identify whether they’re a parent or student, rate each of four major changes on a five-tier scale from “love it” to “hate it,” and whether the proposed schedule is an overall improvement to the current bell schedule.

As of Tuesday, according to Ashland High School Principal Erika Bare, 112 people had taken the survey and 79.63 percent of them preferred the proposed schedule to the current one.

“That tells me we’re on the right track,” Bare said. “Really, I’m feeling encouraged that this is something the community wants and is in support of. As a staff we work really hard to make the decisions based on what’s best for kids and what’s instructionally going to help students do better and we’re glad that the community is also agreeing that these are positive steps to ensure that students are getting the best possible education. Shifting a bell schedule around isn’t by itself going to make the difference; it’s how we approach it, and I think everything we have here is going to help improve students’ ability to learn.”

In the proposed schedule, the AHS school day would start at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3:32 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. On Wednesday, school would start at 8:30 a.m. and end, for students, at 2:37 p.m., after which teachers would have a staff development block from 2:50 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Currently, AHS uses a red and white day schedule which alternates week to week. Students go to school from 8 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. on red days, 8 a.m. to 2:20 p.m. on white days, 8:40 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on red Fridays and 8:40 a.m. to 1:55 p.m. on white Fridays.

Other significant changes include a shorter lunch period, a shorter passing period — that is, the amount of time between classes — and an advisory “reboot.” The new schedule’s lunch period would be 43 minutes, which is seven minutes less than the current 50-minute lunch, and the passing period would be cut from 10 minutes to seven.

Also concerning lunch, the new schedule would squeeze in the lunch period at relatively the same time every day. Currently, lunch alternates from 11:15 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday, and is at 11:40 a.m. on Fridays.

Another advantage of the proposed schedule is an increase in instructional minutes. Public high schools must pass a threshold of instructional minutes in order to be accredited and AHS barely meets those requirements currently.

The shorter lunch period, Bare said, is the main reason why students are less thrilled about the proposed changes than their parents.

“They’re excited about the sleep, but overall they are probably the group that is least excited about (the schedule),” Bare said. “And that has to do with change, for one, and then changing from a 50-minute to 43-minute lunch is kind of a big deal for them.

“There’s no such thing as a perfect bell schedule, and if we were going through our interests in the very beginning, that’s why we started. Why are we looking at this, why are we thinking we need a change? We knew that some of the interests were going to rise to the top and we weren’t going to be able to address everything. So although lunch is a little bit shorter, it’s at the same time every day. Currently it isn’t, which is disruptive for a lot of reasons, and difficult. I know I get hungry at the same time every day, and really it doesn’t work for that and it’s difficult for the folks who work in our cafeteria. There are all kinds of logistical reasons why it’s better. But for students, that’s a hard change.”

The proposed later start time is the district’s response to recent research that recommends such a change, including a notable study by the AAP in 2014 titled “School Start Times for Adolescents” which concluded that delaying start times to 8:30 a.m. or later for both middle school and high school will “align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty.”

According to the study’s lead author and pediatrician Dr. Judith Owens, “Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common — and easily fixable — public health issues in the U.S. today. …The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, high standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life.”

If the survey results hold up, what are the chances that AHS will adopt the proposed budget? Ashland School Board chairman Jim Westrick said that’s yet to be determined.

“My hope is that we will,” he said. “It is budget dependent. Certainly there are a whole lot of moving pieces in this, but that is what (Bare) is brilliant at, is looking at all these pieces and making sure that everyone is heard in making the decision.”

Bare said the key is to strike a balance, districtwide.

“Certainly I am going to bring this forward as the high school’s priority,” she said, “and I am hopeful that it will go forward and have support, but I also am not interested in doing that at the expense of an elementary reading program. You have to look at it with a broad lens. So I’m hopeful and I think there’s a good chance that we’ll be able to fund it, but ultimately that’s going to be a district level decision.”

Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.