As the first week of the new school year ends, teachers and students at Hilton Head Island High School think the later start time is a success.
When Tommy Cooper wakes up for school now, it's light outside.
In previous years, if the sun was up before he was, the Hilton Head Island High School senior would have panicked, thinking he'd overslept and was late for class.
Not this year.
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As an experiment, Hilton Head High has been allowed to push up its start time from 7:45 a.m. to 8:35 a.m. Dismissal has moved from 2:30 to about 3:30 p.m.
The change is intended to better suit high school students' need for sleep and improve their academic performance, according to Amanda O'Nan. It's too early to tell what effect, if any, the adjustment will have on Cooper's grades, but he says it has done wonders for his disposition.
"Waking up in the morning has been a whole different experience (the past few days)," said Cooper. "It's really refreshing to wake up and see the sun. ... That whole aspect makes you feel more comfortable getting up and going to school."
Since the school year began Monday, Cooper has been waking up at 7:15 a.m., an hour later than in previous years, he said.
Math teacher Dora Fletcher and English teacher Kristen Karszes haven't seen tardiness in their first-period classes, and neither has seen students falling asleep in class, once a common occurrence, both said.
"I'm finding that they are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed coming in and are more focused," Karszes said. "One of the other teachers said a parent called saying her child was like a whole new person with the new start time."
One factor contributing to students' attentiveness is more time to eat a complete breakfast in the morning, Karszes added.
Senior Bekka Parent said that in previous years, she sometimes skipped breakfast when she was feeling rushed. Junior Jessica Geltz said she also has not seen nearly as many students lined up at Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts on the way to school seeking a caffeine jolt.
Parent said she would frequently stay up late in past years, as many teens do. Although she isn't planning an earlier bed time, the later start gives her an extra hour of sleep.
"This has made me more awake," Parent said, "and now I feel that I can eat breakfast, be well-rested and be ready for school."
Fletcher, who has a 17-year-old son, said she loves the later start, as both a mom and teacher.
"Kids have a hard time early in the morning," she said. "If there is something that gives them an advantage, how do we deny doing it? If it might work and is backed by research, we should give it a try."
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.
O'Nan said she has not yet determined how the school will conclude whether the change has been successful, but she plans to look at grades from the core classes, including math, English, science and history. Superintendent Jeff Moss has said that if the results are good, he will consider changing the start times at the district's other high schools.
Although the results are promising, putting the new start time in place has not been entirely seamless, O'Nan said Thursday.
Some parents and students are worried a later dismissal won't leave student-athletes enough time to study or to get to road games. Others worry about traffic and safety on and near campus, because dismissal at the high school and adjacent elementary school are at about the same time.
O'Nan acknowledged that traffic was congested during dismissal this week, but said the district and schools hope to solve that.
Athletic practices will now begin immediately following dismissal instead of an hour after school. Although students may have to leave a little earlier in the school day to make it to away games, O'Nan said, teachers will work with students to make up the class work.
Beginning in September, the school also will start a 50-minute long lunch for students to use as independent learning time, O'Nan said. Students currently get 25 minutes for lunch. During the extra time, students can go to a teacher for tutoring, meet with their clubs or do homework so they aren't having to do those things late after school, she added.
"The later start was an opportunity to make some big changes," O'Nan said. "So we thought it was a good time to do the independent learning time because we knew there would be some problems with the later start and tutoring, clubs and other activities."
Cooper and fellow senior Ashley Hamlin said they were concerned about the new time when they learned of it in spring, worried it would cut into time for extracurricular activities. However, both said the long lunch should solve that, and they now favor the new schedule.
"This is much better," Hamlin said. "Last year, students would be sleeping in class, and now I feel like we can be more focused and do better in school."
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.
- Study: Impact of School Start Times on Adolescent Health and Academic Performance
- Study: Sleep In? Dream On?
- Hilton Head schools face traffic troubles on first day of school, August 18, 2014
- Hilton Head High to have later start time next school year, March 8, 2014
- Early high school start times affect teens' ability to learn, studies find, August 21, 2010