Moraga middle school to start later next year
By Lou Fancher
Armed with hard science about the benefits of extra sleep for teenagers, the students, teachers, administrators, staff and parents of children at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School are jumping on the later-start bandwagon.
Waving goodbye to a 48-year tradition, the Moraga School District's middle school will shift in Fall 2016 to an 8:30 a.m. starting time. The 40-minute change to the bell schedule will have students dismissed at 3 p.m.; seventh-grade students taking Z period will finish their days at 3:49 p.m.
In the area, Orinda Intermediate School starts at 8:45 a.m., Lafayette's Stanley Middle School at 8:15 a.m., and Walnut Creek Intermediate begins at 8:25 a.m.
"The Local Control Accountability Plan called for an exploration of a later start time," said JM Principal Joan Danilson. "We really went into the research and based on that, we thought it was important for kids to get more sleep."
The district board authorized the change in April and announced the new 8:30 a.m. start time at its May 10 board meeting.
Increasingly, sleep research is backing up what parents have long known -- that kids, especially adolescent preteens and teenagers, benefit from a good night's rest. Research presented to parents and interested community members at a series of public meetings the school held came primarily from the Stanford Sleep Lab; a multisite study from the University of Minnesota; and information from the CDC, American Academy of Pediatricians, and the Sleep Foundation. A School Site Council consisting of Danilson, four parents, three students, five teachers and Assistant Principal Brad Carn worked with school psychologist Dr. Kathryn Day to compile the data.
The most salient facts supporting a later start time included adolescents' need for 8.5 to 9.25 sleep hours each night and accommodations for their circadian cycles that make it difficult to fall asleep before 11 p.m. The studies showed that kids lacking adequate sleep risk emotional, behavioral and physical health problems and, significantly, lower overall academic performance.
An early survey the school sent out showed that 86 percent of JM's 476 parents supported the later start time. Ninety percent of the 680 students surveyed gave it a thumbs-up.
"I was a proponent of the change based purely on my own experiences with my two kids waking up very early in order to eat breakfast and get to school on time," said Darcy Price, a parent representative selected by JM parents to serve on the site council. "However, I also knew that there were logistical hurdles to be cleared. I had not read the sleep research, so I went into the early discussions with an open mind."
During the months-long process, Price studied the research and attended special meetings scheduled by the Moraga School District Governing Board to discuss the proposed start times. She sent emails to parents asking for feedback.
"The parents did not have a consensus opinion," she recalled, noting that some parents said the research was clear and the students would benefit and other parents expressed concern about how the change would impact homework, afterschool extracurricular activities, bus schedules, traffic and their work schedules.
Unlike the mostly positive data in the school survey, students Price heard from directly worried about after school activities and overwhelmingly were against the change. The teachers and staff, she said, wanted to do what is best for the students, but were concerned about a disruption in students' energy during afternoon classes.
"It's true, teachers said that during the two periods after lunch it's harder to teach," says Danilson. "Kids have more energy, but aren't as focused. And teachers thought those later hours weren't optimal learning times."
But by far the largest issue involved busing. ironically, overcoming the logistical problems was solved when adults were able to do exactly what students are expected to do -- use creative thinking.
"We sat down with the Lamorinda Bus Transportation Agency," said Danilson. "They had to rethink their routes. I give credit to Karlene Steelman, one of our teachers, who has a mathematical mind. She was able to see how to make it work."
The bus adjustments will mean middle and elementary school students share rides, and some wait times and rides will be longer.