It’s usually past midnight before Glenn Hills High School junior Kentrell Allen gets off his job at Zaxby’s, showers, eats dinner, finishes homework and crawls into bed on a school night.
He sets his alarm for 6 a.m. but is sometimes still sleeping when the school bus shuttles past his house and when students in his first-period physics class are closing their books.
“It’s pretty bad,” Allen said. “I was late to homeroom every day last week.”
He’ll have a little more time to get up if Glenn Hills principal Wayne Frazier has his way.
Frazier has asked to switch his high school’s 7:15 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. schedule to the middle school routine that starts at 9:15 a.m. and ends at 4:15 p.m.
He said the change will improve academic performance by helping students arrive on time.
“I found that they just don’t go to bed early,” Frazier said of the students. “Some of them have night jobs; some of them take care of brothers and sisters; and for the most part they just don’t go to sleep. For me personally I would love to keep it the way it is. I would love to be off everyday at 2 o’clock and have the rest of the day, but that’s not the best thing for the students.”
Frazier’s request must now be reviewed by Acting Superintendent James Whitson, who will look at the logistics to see if the switch is possible. Whitson said he supports the reasoning behind Frazier’s request but has to see if the buses and drivers could accommodate a high school running so late and if after-school sports would be affected.
After his review, the Richmond County Board of Education would vote on the issue this summer. Because the Georgia Department of Education only tracks days students are in school, not times, it would not need state approval.
“I understand why (Frazier) wants to do it, and his reasoning is not an issue,” Whitson said. “It’s more of ‘Can I do that and how many other schools would want to do it for very good reason, too?’ ”
Transportation Director Jimmy Wiley is also looking at how delaying the Glenn Hills route would affect the other schools and drivers. The system runs on a three-tier system, and Wiley said he needs to make sure the Glenn Hills buses wouldn’t conflict with the lower grades.
“What you have to do is look at the big picture before you say yes or no,” Wiley said.
While logistics are being worked out, research already supports later class schedules. Studies have shown that teens between 13 and 19 are physiologically programmed to fall asleep around 11 p.m. and not wake up before 8 a.m., according to Kyla Wahlstrom, a national expert on the effectiveness of later high school start times.
Wahlstrom is currently in the second phase of a research project on later high school start times that began in 1996. Her original research found that students had better attendance, grades and graduation times and that fewer reported depression when they arrived at school after 8 a.m.
“The benefits are clearly that they’re more alert and awake throughout the day,” said Wahlstrom, the director for Center for Applied Research and Education Improvement at the University of Minnesota. “The benefit also is that they regulate their emotions better.”
Frazier said faculty and parents supported the change when he presented it at a recent parent night. However, opinions among students are varied because of concerns over after-school jobs and sports.
Glenn Hills junior Shanarrian Lewis said students should be taught to wake up early so they are prepared for demanding jobs when they graduate.
“If you’re not responsible enough to get up on time and go to school, that’s your problem,” Lewis said.
Santo Nina, 16, said it would be nice to sleep later in the morning, but his afternoon schedule would be ruined with a 4 p.m. dismissal. After school Nina begins lifting weights and practicing with his football and basketball teams, and he couldn’t afford to start his routine later.
“It would be hard on my sports,” Nina said. “Plus waking up early teaches us to be responsible because they’re not going to change the times in college. If you’re not here on time, you’re losing your money.”
Along with Frazier’s request for a later schedule, he also asked the Richmond County School System to allow him to enforce uniforms on ninth-graders, starting next year.
He said uniforms would cut down on peer stigmas and help the younger group transition to a school of upperclassmen. The ninth-graders would also be isolated in a “ninth grade academy” where they can adjust to high school before being thrown in with the older students.
“I can’t wait until the whole system or the whole nation changes certain things,” Frazier said. “You do what’s best for the children first. If everyone agrees this is the best for our children, we’ll find a way to make it work.”