School Start & End Times
The New Canaan Public Schools believe it is our responsibility to explore ways to continuously improve the student experience at each of the district's five schools. As a result, throughout the 2017-2018 school year we engaged in a process of researching and understanding the connections between school start and end times and student health and wellness.
As this investigation continued into the 2018-2019 school year, the District committed to a goal focused on developing recommendations about school start and end times, and understanding their related implications, for the Board to consider for the future.
As a district, we are committed to educating the whole child, academically, emotionally, physically, and socially.
Today's students are experiencing a high degree of pressure and stress. New Canaan's 4,100+ students are not immune, and the district is committed to doing all that it can to help students thrive and excel throughout their time in our schools. While school start/end times are not a "solution" in and of themselves, the district believes that a change developed and implemented as part of a comprehensive solution, focused on student health and wellness, could be beneficial and is therefore worth exploring.
From the beginning, the district has taken a thoughtful and strategic approach to investigating this topic, such as:
- Attending conferences in Washington, DC, Hartford, and elsewhere
- Speaking to others involved in similar reviews, including those who have made a change and those who have chosen not to make a change
- Reviewing the research in support of a change
- Holding a meeting with internal stakeholders to share research and generate items for consideration
- Partnering with Hanover Research, who assisted a neighboring district with their recent change, to perform research and administer a stakeholder survey
- Partnering with Transportation Advisory Services (TAS) to develop options for Board and community discussions and to perform a transportation study
- Organizing a focus group discussion with teachers, building administrators, BOE members, district administrators, parents, and members of the Healthy School Start Times New Canaan to identify guiding principles and other considerations from the various perspectives
- Meeting with faculty and staff at all five buildings to share scenarios developed by TAS, receive feedback, and open lines of communication
- Meeting with union leaders of New Canaan's six employee unions to share findings from the study and open lines of communication
Throughout the process, the anticipated benefits of a change, the challenges of making a change, the complexity of the New Canaan school system, and the many considerations that must be accounted for in weighing a change continue to factor into the discussions and planning. Some of the areas of focus and related considerations include:
- Research on the relationship between adolescent student sleep patterns and school start times
- A growing body of research suggests:
- A significant number of American teenagers experience detrimental pressure and stress in their daily lives
- Many teenagers are not getting the recommended amount of sleep (8-10 hours/night)
- Sleep deprivation in teens negatively impacts emotional intelligence and contributes to increased feelings of pressure and stress, poor decision-making, difficulties with learning, and challenges with executive functioning
- This same research suggests that later start times for adolescent students can help them get more sleep, thereby strengthening their emotional intelligence and helping with decision-making, learning, and executive functioning
- A growing body of research suggests:
- A dearth of formal research related to student start/end times for younger students leads us to consider anecdotal feedback from staff working with these students
- Elementary faculty and staff report that late afternoon times (after 3:00) are not conducive to young student learning, and that early dismissals are disruptive to the classrooms
- Middle school (upper division) faculty and staff report that 7-8 grade students appear tired in the morning
- Middle school (lower division) faculty and staff report that 5-6 grade students are in the appropriate time slot
- New Canaan students at all grade levels are highly involved participants in extra-curricular activities
- Over 70% of NCHS student participate on one or more teams each year in our athletics program
- 100's of students participate annually in the Visual and Performing Arts programs (drama, chorus, orchestra, band, etc.) at the middle and high school
- Middle-level and elementary students widely participate in town-sponsored athletic and other activities, and often share facilities with school-based programs by utilizing them afterwards (i.e... fields, classrooms, auditoriums, etc.)
- To be successful, any proposed change must be operationalized by the district. Therefore, the current 3-tier bus system must be understood and reviewed to identify opportunities for change
- The current system is "highly efficient" according to TAS; therefore, there are no meaningful opportunities within the system to generate additional time for students
- Our current 3-tier system is grouped as follows:
- Tier 1: NCHS & Saxe 7-8 (7:30 - 2:05)
- Tier 2: Saxe 5-6 and South (8:15 - 2:50)
- Tier 3: East and West (9:05 - 3:35)
- The elementary school day is 6 hours 30 minutes; secondary school day is 6 hours 35 minutes
- School start and end times are primarily driven by the time it takes all buses to bring students home at the end of the day and return to the next school at dismissal
- The school district currently contracts enough buses to support the existing 3-tier system
- Additional buses are approximately $100,000 each / year
- Significant changes to the current 3-tier system requires additional buses
At this point, the district is continuing to perform research, gather feedback, and generate ideas. The Board of Education has tasked the administration to provide regular updates to the Board as a "committee of the whole" as the process continues.
Next steps for this work include multiple quick surveys of students grades 7-12 focused on identifying their use of time outside of the school day. With a link generated by the district, students will be asked to quickly (under 3 minutes) identify the time they spend doing various activities, including sleeping, doing homework, athletics, visual or performing arts, etc. outside of the school day. With these results, the administration will be better able to weigh possible considerations for a change. Additionally, it could be used to help determine a "baseline," which could then be compared against the results of any change after readministering the instrument in the future to determine impacts of any change. Essentially, it will help create a "pre" dataset to compare against a "post" if a change is implemented.
Another next step is the ongoing traffic study being performed by TAS at our request. A representative from TAS will be visiting New Canaan to observe, interview, and recommend solutions to some of the traffic challenges, including the district's desire to have Saxe Middle School on one tier instead of splitting it between two.
The district is committed to doing all that it can on behalf of the students in our care, and we are dedicated to completing this research and study balancing thoroughness with urgency to ensure that any recommended change meets the stated need of adjusting adolescent start times while avoiding negative consequences for students, staff, and the entire New Canaan community.