Students in Durham's year-round traditional public schools head back to the classroom today. They'll be the first group of students to experience the district's new bell schedule.
Most Durham high schools will start after 9 a.m. this year to better accommodate teenagers' sleep schedules. Many elementary schools are moving to an earlier start time to allow for the change, including two year-round schools. Easley Elementary and Holt Elementary will run from 7:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. A third year-round elementary school, Pearsontown, is starting 15 minutes later than last year, at 9:15 a.m., and will run until 3:45 p.m.
Assistant Superintendent for Auxiliary Services Scott Denton is managing the transition. He said changes to elementary school schedules had to be made to accommodate bussing needs.
"We're hoping that parents will work with us," he said. "We really hope that this will improve student achievement and not have too much of a negative impact on families that will have to make some changes to accommodate the bell schedules."
The Durham County School Board voted for the bell change last year, citing research showing later school start times for teens improve health, safety and academic achievement. Studies dating back to the 1970s have shown teenagers' natural sleep patterns make it harder for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m., but that they still need 8 or 9 hours of sleep.
School board member Natalie Beyer said pushing the morning bell later will give high school students a better chance of catching needed shut-eye. Studies show most teenagers get around 7 hours of sleep a night.
"We really considered this a significant health issue for adolescents and saw it was an important time to take a step forward on this issue," Beyer said.
Durham officials said they've been considering making the switch for many years, but that some past school board members may have been hesitant to upend families' schedules.
"One issue that is always complicated in Durham is how many older siblings provide childcare for younger siblings," Beyer said. The earlier high school start time allowed older siblings to pick up and care for their elementary-aged siblings after school.
Beyer said she knows the switch will be challenging for these families, but that the district has made changes to afterschool care to try to accommodate them.
"We think with the right support from schools and afterschools, and churches and families, we can make this a positive change for families in Durham," she said.
The district's only year-round high school, the School for Creative Studies, will not be affected by the change. Rogers-Herr Middle School also has the same start time as last year.