Next school year, Hilton Head Island High School students can set their alarms about an hour later.
Principal Amanda O'Nan has decided to move the school's start time from 7:45 a.m. to 8:35 a.m. The change also means students will get out later, at 3:25 p.m. Currently, the final bell is at 2:30 p.m.
"(Superintendent) Jeff Moss brought up the idea of a later start in a meeting, and I began to think, 'If it is good for kids, then why are we not doing this?'" O'Nan said. "This is something we've been talking about as a district off and on for many years, but it never came to fruition."
The county's five public high schools currently start at about 7:30 or 7:45 a.m., earlier than most elementary schools.
But many studies suggest later start times lead to significant academic improvements for high school students. The results show lower dropout rates, increased attendance, better academic performance and less student-reported depression.
"When you look at all the research, I think it's pretty evident, not only from the academic but the safety standpoint, that it is better for students to be starting later," Moss said. "Academically, that's about the time teens' brains wake up and are ready to go."
School administrators discussed the later start time with some students to gather feedback. They approved, but were not overly excited, which O'Nan said surprised her.
She said she thinks students are so used to the early start and don't realize the benefits of waking later.
And there are a few naysayers, O'Nan said. Their primary concern is getting home later from sports and other extracurricular activities. O'Nan said that is something coaches and advisers will have to keep in mind, adding that most students operate on later schedules and are used to staying up late.
Hilton Head High is the only high school in the district experimenting with the later start time next year. Some of the other high schools want to see the results of Hilton Head's trial before rolling it out in their schools, Beaufort High School principal Corey Murphy said.
The district still has a few kinks to work out with the experiment, particularly busing.
Changing the high school's time is causing the middle and elementary schools to slightly adjust their start times, as well, Moss said. Hilton Head Middle is moving up 10 minutes to 7:20 a.m. The elementary schools are moving from 8:30 a.m. to 8:20 a.m.
With all new start times, the district may have to purchase up to nine more buses for the Hilton Head schools. That could cost as much as $400,000, Moss said, but that is a worst-case scenario. Moss said the buses would not mix students from elementary and high schools, which would be starting at almost the same time.
The district is meeting with Durham Bus Services in the coming weeks to see if buses already in the district can be shuffled around, Moss said.
Several board members said they are excited about the plan. Board chairman Bill Evans said he is confident it will be successful.
"We are just going to give it a try and see how it works and go from there," O'Nan said.
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.