21st century teaching and learning should reflect research based best practices, and must provide more time for faculty professional development and collaboration.   It is my belief that “late-starts” for students, beginning school at 8:45 or 9, one or more days a week, is a handy way to advance on both these fronts.  We provide more sleep time for students, and more collaboration time for teachers.

At St. Gregory we expanded upon this practice this year, moving to twice weekly “late-starts” at 9:00 am.   This article was published on the front page of our student newspaper, the Gregorian Chant, by sophomore Olivia Larsen.

As every St. Gregory student has invariably noted, the number of late starts per week this year has doubled from one to two. Whether you get up and run, sleep in that extra glorious hour, plan on taking that new Mandarin class, or go out to breakfast, classes this year start at 9:00 instead of 8:00. Susan Heintz, Upper School Head, says there were two reasons it was instituted. “We want to be able to work together, as a faculty. . . We need some quality professional development time when teachers are awake and focused. . .the best time for that is morning.”

The other reason is, “Sleeping in a little bit is better for your brains. There’s research on that. It’s an experiment, too. . . the heavy-duty academic stuff, sitting still first thing in the morning, that’s what’s really hard on the teenage brain.”

The late starts are about evenly, or, as Jonathan Martin, Head of School, estimated, “60-40 for the faculty professional development.” As Martin correlates, though, “Faculty professional development isn’t ultimately for the teachers. It’s ultimately for the purpose of improved student learning. . . It’s all about improved student learning. It’s nice that it’s such a win-win.”

One of the main methods for teacher collaboration that the late starts are conducive to is the critical friends group. Teachers and administrators from every department focus on teaching and learning, and help each other by observing classes and giving critique. They can bring in problems they’ve been having in classrooms and work with it in a group environment. With more late starts, there is more time for the faculty’s critical friends group to be at its most helpful. The late starts also facilitate more department meetings, division meetings, and other varied staff gatherings. Heintz says, “Faculty like the opportunity to work together.”

Martin talks about the phasing into school and the placement of late starts as the header and footer of the week: “Say a teenager sleeps until 9 or 9:30 on the weekends, then on Mondays, they have to phase to waking up at 8, and then on Tuesdays they phase to getting up at 7. So it’s a more gradual, phasing transition back to early arising.”

When asked about the future of the late starts, Heintz commented, “Right now, we’re okay with what we have. Some schools in the future start at 9 every day. There’s been no talk of doing that, but no one’s said never, either.” The feedback Heintz has been receiving is minimal, but mostly about the later lunchtime, which she feels “we have compensated for that by the longer break between the two periods before lunch.”

The later lunchtime and later end time for school has struck a chord with a few students, though. As Adam Gonzales said, “I don’t think the late starts are worth the later lunchtime and later let out time.” Many students agreed with these sentiments: “I think the late starts this year are a waste of time because i would much rather come to school at 8 than staying till 3:30 on Monday and Friday,” said Connor Johnson.

Lauren Stern thinks, “It has its benefits and downsides. I like sleeping in, but everything else about it is bad. I’d probably rather just get here at 8:00.” Kersey says the late starts just make the whole day seem a lot longer than usual.

Ivan Escobosa says that the late starts are a cool thing, but they give him a habit of staying up an hour later, anticipating the extra sleep, which he carries with him to other days, too. Lauren Megaw says, “I like the idea of sleeping in, but it’s only an hour. I’m kind of undecided.” Jessica Couch says, “Late start? I don’t sleep in, so it’s an inconvenience because I can’t get to school later.”

Tyler Sligh says, “I like the late starts because it gives you extra time to sleep, so you can be rested throughout the day.” A St. Gregorian who preferred to remain anonymous enthused, “Having two late starts a week lets students catch up on some much-needed sleep, which is always a bonus!!” Stewart Bass also likes the idea: “I think they help a lot, especially since every other day, I have to wake up early for cross-country.”

As Mrs. Heintz said, “the late starts, right now, are an experiment,” and the experiment has produced mixed responses from the student body. Some love it, some hate it, but it’s all about student learning in the end, with improved teaching styles and improved sleep habits for most.