Next week, Charlottesville’s youngest students will start the new school year by filing into class earlier than they have in decades so that older students can get more sleep.
The School Board voted in May to upend bus schedules and class start times on the advice of studies that show the nation’s teenagers are sleep-deprived.
“It made sense to us on a number of levels to do it,” board member Ned Michie said.
Starting on the first day of the school year, Aug. 20, high school students will gain a little extra shut-eye by starting classes five minutes later.
Middle-schoolers are the real winners – they get to start class 50 minutes later.
“It was really for the middle school students,” board member Amy Laufer said of rearranging the schedule.
As for the elementary students, they will be at their desks 30 minutes earlier when the morning bell first rings.
For that, they can thank the research of such groups as the nonprofit Brookings Institution and Harvard University, each with studies promising improved health and grades for teens who start the day later.
“We saw lots of research that showed how important sleep was to adolescents,” Michie said.
Teenagers, thanks to hormonal changes, are built to hit the sack late in the evening and greet the morning sun later than the rest of the world, according to a 2012 study by Education Next.
Such research even grabbed the attention of politicians, with a failed push in 1999 to make 8:30 a.m. the upper limit of when schools in the United States could start, the National Sleep Foundation noted.
Charlottesville bus drivers also will adjust their pickup schedules for the roughly 2,300 students who will be standing by the curb on school mornings.
From now on, the school system’s 23 buses will haul the youngest to school first – a half-hour earlier than before – instead of starting with the students at Walker Upper Elementary and Buford Middle schools.
This new arrangement makes sense, officials said, because all elementary students live in neighborhoods adjoining their elementary schools, while the older students live farther away from the schools they attend.
Now, bus drivers will first run through the shortest routes for the youngest children before turning around to trek across the city for middle-schoolers and again for the oldest students, who have always been the last to catch a ride.
“It wasn’t a huge disadvantage before, but it’s the most efficient run now,” Charlottesville schools spokeswoman Beth Cheuk said.
Buses will pick up middle school students roughly 40 minutes later than in previous years. High school students can expect to see the bus each morning at the same time.
Will the new bus schedules work?
“We won’t have a clue until we work it,” Pupil Transportation Supervisor Sherri Eubanks said.