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Later middle school start times costly, but supported by parents, students, faculty

Later middle school start times costly, but supported by parents, students, faculty

MADISON, Wis. - Parents, students and faculty members said they are in favor of implementing later start times at Madison middle schools, but the district said the change would be costly.

Parents like Chrisitine Verdico know when you have a middle school student, getting them ready for school can be challenging.

Verdico said waking up is hard for her daughter, who goes to O'keeffe Middle School, because she has trouble going to bed before 11:00 p.m.

"She gets to bed at probably 10:30, 11:00 by the time she actually falls asleep. Waking her up in the morning, we have an alarm that goes off at 6:30, and snooze goes on a couple of times," Verdico said.

Almost every middle school in the Madison district starts at 7:35 a.m. Studies suggest later times would improve students' attention spans and academic success.

School board member T.J. Mertz has been on the front lines pushing for the board to delay middles school start times.

Verdico said it's not only hard to get her daughter up and ready for school, once she gets there she is tried throughout the day.

"She would sleep right in her math class, and she is not the only one," she said.

Lack of sleep reduces middle and high school students' chances at success, according to the Americana Academy of Pediatrics. Madison's board of education is pushing for an 8:30 a.m. start time to give students 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 hours of sleep to be prepared for the next day.

"We are serious about doing everything we can to address the achievement gap and any gap-closing strategies we can use to do that, we want to try to do," Board of Education member Dean Loumos said.

The district surveyed 10,00 people -- 78 percent of parents, 71 percent of staff and 75 percent of students agree with a later start to the school day.

Cherokee Heights Middle School Principal Sarah Chaja-Clardy previously worked at a school that started at 8:30 and said it makes a difference.

"They wake up and they are not hungry. We serve breakfast, but I don't think their body is hungry for it and then we see a significant spike in behavior at 9:00, and that is something that has been consistent across years here," Chaja-Clardy said.

Despite the positive feedback, district officials said changing start times would be costly.

Without changing elementary or high school start times, changing all middle schools would require an additional $2 million per year. Switching times would eliminate the chance to pair bus routes with other schools. The money would fund 50 to 55 additional bus routes that would be required to pick up and drop off students.

"Right now it is a really daunting choice to make, and we don't know where to find $2 million," Loumos said. "Everyone is in agreement that this is a good thing, there is no one that doesn't agree with that. We would like to find a way to do it, that's our goal."

Loumos said the board is looking at ways to cut transportation cost, as well as look at other possible solutions.

Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham agrees with the research and said the district will explore all options.

"We know there is clear research on the benefits of later start times, as well as support from many families, based on our own survey. We see that as a charge to fully explore all of the factors involved -- like transportation, childcare, extracurricular activities, the cost -- and see whether this is a shift that is feasible for our district," Cheatham said.


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