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Ashland High considers new schedule

For 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 — that has shown later start times align adolescents more closely with their biological sleep rhythms.

Next year's proposed bell schedule is available on the Ashland High School website and includes a breakdown of the most significant changes, a rationale for why the district is considering the 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 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.

“That tells me we’re on the right track,” Bare said. “Really, I’m feeling encouraged that this is something the community wants. 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.”

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.

AHS currently uses a red and white day schedule that 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's the amount of time between classes — and an advisory “reboot.” The new lunch period would be 43 minutes, the current lunch is 50 minutes, 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. Lunch currently alternates from 11:15 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday, and is at 11:40 a.m. 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.

The shorter lunch period, Bare said, is the main reason 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.”

The proposed later start time is the district’s response to recent research that recommends such a change, including a 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, 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.”

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.

School buses come nearly an hour after Ashland High School's early release, or 'white day.' The school is considering unifying its daily class schedule for next year, including changing daily start and end times. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta