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Early to rise no reason to catastrophize

Since he started high school in September, my son has yet to exit his bedroom on a school day with his eyes open. His record for words spoken before the bus comes is four. ("Can you drive me?") One morning, I'm pretty sure he dozed off while standing at the front door.

He is not unique. Area schools are not exactly teeming with "morning" people.

This partly explains why some parents of middle school students on Grand Island were not pleased to hear that starting with the 2010-11 school year, they had to be in school by 7:30 a.m., the same starting time as the high school and 90 minutes earlier than previous middle schoolers.

"Our daughter used to love school," Shannon Spencer said in an e-mail to the website isledegrande.com. "Now, she doesn't want to go; she says she hates it."

The debate about what time the school day should begin has been going on for years, fueled in part by the practice of starting school later for children in elementary school who tend to wake up early no matter what and starting it earlier for high schoolers who would rather go a day without their cell phone than wake up before the sun makes its first appearance.

"We wouldn't argue the issue that it would be great to have them start school at 10," said Grand Island School Superintendent Robert Christmann. "But there are things at the other end that are sometimes not thought of when you pull all the pieces together."

At the top of the list on Grand Island was the district's desire to have its middle and high school teachers work on the same schedule so they could meet from time to time. A unified starting time also makes it possible for middle school students to take high school courses. And, Christmann said, there is some financial benefit, which can't be discounted at a time when most school districts face a budget gap.

It didn't seem unreasonable to Shannon Spencer the first time she heard it. She hoped that her son and daughter at Veronica E. Connor Middle School would be able to adapt. She said they haven't. Even now, almost seven months after the first day of school, she said she has trouble rousing her kids at 6:15 to be ready for the bus.

And there are other issues, she said. It's more difficult to get children to eat a decent breakfast when they are so sleepy, which means they have even less energy once they get to school. Because bus runs are longer with combined runs for middle and high school, some students can spend up to an hour on the bus. She is concerned that student performance will begin to suffer.

But Christmann said an examination of the first half of this school year versus the first half of 2009-10 shows no drop-off. Attendance and academic averages are up or the same, and behavior problems are down. "If we found that suddenly we had two years in a row and things really went south," he said, "we'd have to take a look."

It's also worth noting that some parents are thrilled that their children are starting school earlier because it allows them to be with them as they head out for the day. With a 9 a.m. starting time, some parents who work outside the home were having to wrestle with whether to leave their 11- or 12-year-old home alone to wait for the bus to arrive.

There is no easy answer and none that will please every parent. But some of the worries parents had have not come to fruition.

For one, they thought that if middle schoolers and high schoolers were on the same bus, the older kids would pick on the younger ones. It hasn't happened, Christmann said; the older kids generally want nothing to do with the younger kids.

I could have guessed that. They're probably catching up on their sleep.

e-mail: bandriatch@buffnews.com

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