Parents respond to proposed school start time changes in West Kings

Published on January 11, 2017

Executive members of parent-guardian school support groups attended a public input session hosted in the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board headquarters Jan. 10 to share their thoughts on the proposed start time changes that would impact the West Kings family of schools.

©Ashley Thompson

BERWICK - It’s clear from the onset of the public consultation series regarding potential start time changes within the West Kings family of schools that the idea will be met with mixed reviews.

The following schools stand to be impacted if the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board (AVRSB) decides to accept the proposed changes: West Kings District High School, Pine Ridge Middle School, Berwick and District School, Dwight Ross School, Kingston and District School and St. Mary’s Elementary School.

The first of seven public input sessions running from Jan. 10 to Jan. 24 was hosted in the AVRSB headquarters. The Jan. 10 meeting was arranged for executive members of parent-guardian school support groups and the rest will be hosted in the various schools that could potentially be impacted by the proposed changes.

In April 2012, the school board voted in favour of undertaking a study that would examine the plausibility of “switching the start times for West Kings District High School and its feeder schools” and exploring the impacts said changes would have from a transportation standpoint.

In presenting a brief overview of the research compiled, AVRSB Director of Programs and Services Dave Jones said they gathered information that focused on adolescents and sleep to gain a better understanding of how school start times impact “adolescent health, wellbeing and academic success.”

“There’s no shortage of research on the topic,” said Jones.

AVRSB officials participated in two work sessions on the topic in early 2016, with the latter being a teleconference with Dr. Stan Kutcher, Sun Life Financial chair of adolescent mental health and director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Care in Mental Health Policy and Training at Dalhousie University and IWK Health Centre.

Jones explained that Dr. Kutcher advised the school board that early start times are more likely to negatively impact high school students due to a “biological switch” that typically occurs between the ages of 12-14, making it harder for high school students to fall asleep earlier in the evening.

“The average teenager has difficulty falling asleep before 11 p.m.,” said Jones, reading from a slideshow presentation.

Citing research gleaned from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Jones said researchers recommend school start times of no earlier than 8:30 a.m. for teenagers.

“Everything points in the same direction – the evidence is most compelling to start high schools later,” said Jones, reciting a quote from Dr. Kutcher.

AVRSB Director of Operations David Lloyd spoke to how the proposed changes could impact bus schedules within the West Kings system.

Lloyd said the changes would result in operational savings, address current busing issues noted at Kingston, Pine Ridge and St. Mary’s, alleviate traffic concerns at Kingston and Pine Ridge by staggering the start and end times, and result in the majority of students spending less time on the bus.

Members of the public were asked to talk amongst themselves and consider two questions at the close of the presentation: is there more information you’d like the board to consider and what factors do you feel should be given priority as the board meets to make a decision?

The small group of parents in attendance, predominantly representing schools in the Kingston and Aylesford areas, asked the board to be aware of the impact this change would have on the elementary school students.

“We’re talking about putting primaries on a bus that much earlier. I guess we’re wondering if there’s a way to alleviate that… that’s really early for a five-year-old to stand at the side of the road,” a St. Mary’s parent offered, noting that the information available at this time seems to focus on how West Kings students will benefit from the switch.

“What do we know about elementary kids… and how it will affect their education?”

The parent group asked the board to think about how the proposed change would impact parents requiring childcare, elementary students that will have to go to bed earlier to wake up earlier, and West Kings students that have extracurricular activities or jobs based on the school’s current schedule.

It is anticipated the school board could make a decision regarding the start times within the West Kings family of schools sometime in the spring.

Proposed time changes under review by AVRSB:

West Kings – change the school day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. to 9:05 a.m. to 3:25 p.m.

Pine Ridge Middle School – change the school day from 8:50 3:20 p.m. to 9:05 a.m. to 3:25 p.m.

Berwick and District School – change the school day from 8:37 a.m. to 2:55 p.m. to 8:24 a.m. to 2:42 p.m.

Dwight Ross School – keep the schedule the same, with school from 8:20 a.m. to 2:35 p.m.

Kingston and District School – change the school day from 8:40 a.m. to 3 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. to 2:50 p.m.

St. Mary’s Elementary School – change the school day from 8:40 a.m. to 2:55 p.m. to 8:10 a.m. to 2:25 p.m.

Don’t miss the session hosted in your local school:

Jan. 16 – The Kingston and District School will host a session at 6 p.m., followed by the session at Pine Ridge Middle School booked for 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 17 – The Dwight Ross school is hosting a 6 p.m. session that will be followed by the input session at West Kings District High School at 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 24 – St. Mary’s Elementary School will host its session at 6 p.m. and Berwick and District School will host a session at 7:30 p.m.