Amherst survey shows most parents, students like later school start time

  • Amherst Regional High School

Staff Writer
Published: 10/13/2022 2:36:55 PM

AMHERST — Students and their families are largely supportive of the change in school start times that began last fall, with staff more divided about the impact, according to results of a survey presented Tuesday to the Amherst Regional School Committee.

“In general, people were generally positive about it (the adjusted start times), for some of the reasons we assumed would be true about the mental and physical health,” Superintendent Michael Morris said.

The flip of school start times for the elementary and secondary schools got underway last fall, with students in the middle and high schools, including those from Amherst, Shutesbury, Pelham and Leverett, beginning their classes at 9 a.m., while the school day starts at 8:10 a.m. at the Amherst and Pelham elementary schools.

The Amherst, Pelham and Amherst Regional school committees endorsed the plan as a way of improving the well-being of students, and their academic performance.

For secondary students, the survey shows that the lone concern about the later start time is the late afternoon dismissal time, especially for athletes and participants in club activities, and those who have jobs.

The survey was based on input from 1,085 people, including 277 responses from students, almost all of which came from students in Grades 7-12, 565 responses from parents and caregivers, and 243 responses from staff. Various multiple-choice questions were provided to each group, along with two open-response questions.

Margo Pederson, an Amherst College student who completed an internship through its Charles Hamilton Houston Program, compiled the results and put together the 21-page report that features numerous pie charts.

Morris noted that improved physical and mental health for students was the most positive trait noticed by parents and caregivers.

Other responses found that students were more alert and on time for the first class of the day, with 70% of staff agreeing with this assessment.

More than three-quarters of students, or 76.8%, reported that the new schedule provided a good or great start time, with almost all of the remaining respondents saying that it was a difficult or very difficult start time, based on what they have to do after school.

“That is a tradeoff we knew going on,” Morris said, adding that that doesn’t change his feeling that the flip of the start times was the right decision.

Among students, the biggest challenge of the schedule is participating in organized activities, their ability to have a job and playing on a sports team. Nearly 60% of all student respondents said that the schedule change impacts that somewhat or to a great extent.

Staff members were almost evenly divided on whether the schedule changes had a positive impact on them.

Other data found that 28.2% of students are getting 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night, with 53.3% getting just 6 to 8 hours of sleep. And 17.6% of students are getting less than 6 hours of sleep.

Still, those figures compare favorably to a national average of sleep habits, Morris said, and may be improving, though no similar survey was done before the start time change was made. “I find that heartening and there’s room for growth, as well,” Morris said.

Members of the school committee indicated they see the results as confirming their support for having secondary students start classes later.

“It’s really great to see such a robust survey shows such strong, positive results,” said Amherst representative Peter Demling. He added that it is unusual for students, who are traditionally harsh graders on changes, to be so positive.

Amherst representative Allison McDonald thanked Pederson for the work done on the survey, only flagging one concern that showed students are seeking less after-school help for their academic needs.

Almost three quarters of students reported they are not taking advantage of earlier times in the school day to get that extra help.

But since the new start times coincided with the implementation of the block schedule at the high school, McDonald said it is possible that the extended class times mean more opportunity for help is being provided.


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