Let’s Keep the Day Short and Sweet

Lets Keep the Day Short and Sweet

By Saranyu Nel

For a handful of months now Tam has entertained the idea of a new bell schedule. The genesis first came from wanting a later start time for students due to health benefits. However, once teachers, students, parents, and other staff started to plan out possible schedules they found that it was much harder to just create a school day that starts a half hour or hour later than usual.

In January,  students, staff, and parents formed a committee to change the school bell schedule at the end of last year but eventually ran out of time to implement it. Initially, the main focus was to push back the starting time of school to combat the problem of sleep deprivation among students. As the meetings went by, they also began discussing other aspects of the bell schedule, such as the length of classes and the placement of tutorial. The committee didn’t face major opposition but rather took too long in their planning.

“We did not have enough time to go to the staff to get it approved,” English teacher Austin Bah, a former committee member, said.  “The contract says that if we’re gonna make changes to the schedule, we’d have to do it before May. And we just didn’t quite make it; you know the [teacher’s] union wasn’t fully informed so they weren’t ready to get it on… We literally just ran out of time by days or weeks.”

If students are ever going to see these changes implemented, the committee must be reformed and propose a schedule before November for the Teacher’s Union to vote on.

This directly contradicts with the statements of Spanish teacher Isaias Franco, a Teacher’s Union member. “The new bell schedule had to be proposed by November…last year we missed that cutoff. So for this year, if we do want to make a change for the following school year, from my understanding is that those changes have to be proposed by this November.”

Both teachers did hint at the possibility of a second attempt this year to change the schedule. “It could happen next year. It’s dependent upon [whether or not] the Teacher’s Union wants to make it an issue,” added Bah.

Junior and Tam News editor Kara Kneafsey was the student representative on the bell schedule committee.“Mr. Bah brought it up to Farr…and I was the student representative on it. But it’s basically between Bah and Backer and Sharf. Bah was the one who brought it up. Sharf and Backer where the ones that were like, ‘look at these studies, kids need more sleep. What can we do to fix it.’ And that was kinda what it was… [an attempt] to figure out what we needed to change in the schedule to make it best for students.”

Kneafsey also provided important documents from the committee, including the schedules they drafted. The rationales they wrote at the top of their schedule said, “The reason for the change in the schedule is to align student’s natural sleep cycle with the school schedule to help reduce their stress and improve academic performance and personal happiness. Research shows that starting at a later time leads to many benefits for teenagers.”

By March 28th the committee finalized three possible schedules. Overall they look very similar to the current schedule. All of them started at 8:30. The proposed Monday schedule was very similar to the current one, ultimately ending at 3:00 pm; sometimes 20-minute breaks between 2nd period and 3rd period. Occasionally, lunch would be only 40 minutes long in order to shorten the day. All classes were shortened by five minutes (85-minute classes), except for the Monday schedule in which classes were still 40 minutes. One schedule had rotational periods, such that tuesday would consists of  periods 1 through 4 while Thursday would consist of the same periods in opposite order. Not a single day, on any proposed schedule, ended later than 3:20 pm. One hour-long tutorial still existed on all schedules, but was sometimes placed differently.

However, the students and staff are not so eager to work with a later end time. According to Bah, generally there is no urgency for the change in the schedule; rather a later start time would be more convenient for students. “I was personally surprised at how much people were kinda happy with the way it is,” said Bah. “Teachers were generally happy with the schedule.”

Sophomore Chris Adams said, “I have extracurricular activities after school and a zero period. Pushing later into the day would definitely affect that.” Pushing out into the day would affect him and other sports.

Sophomore Paige Anderson spoke about her opinion regarding the schedule. “It’s fine, but if school started later it would definitely be better to the mental health of all the students.”

Principle Farr’s administrative assistant and committee member, Laura Keaton, said, “I’m happy with the schedule the way it is, but it doesn’t affect me as much as it affects students. I know that they’re studies that say students do better later. And truly in the long run that would probably make my job more easier… but it doesn’t affect me either way.”

The schedule change as stated in their rationales is mainly for the students, but if it starts to interfere with the staff’s wellbeing such as a later end time, they may not be very eager comply. Plus, according to meeting notes that they took, the committee did not want the school to start at 9:00 and end around 3:30-4:00 as it interfered with parents needing to get to work. Furthermore, most of the staff still work after school and didn’t want to join the building rush hour traffic when going home. Thus the committee then decided to change other aspects of the schedule to make school shorter so as to avoid this complication, as well as drafting an 8:30 start time.  

Science teacher, Grace Backer, another member of the committee, spoke about how shortening the school day brought up many problems. “People on the committee were very interested in having a later start time but didn’t want to sacrifice going later into the day. And when you add up the [State Mandated] minutes, it gets very challenging to meet the minutes when you eliminate an hour to half an hour of school every day,” Backer said.

The “minutes” she mentioned are the California education requirements of 240 instructional minutes per day which add up to about 64,800 instructional minutes per year (CA Ed Code 46141). Moreover, the 5-10 minute passing periods between periods also count as instructional minutes; however, 5-minute breaks are excluded from this classification.  

Bah spoke about the difficulty regarding the process to alternate the current bell schedule, he went on saying, “it’s actually a more complicated process than most people think. Most people think you just come up with something, people vote on it, see if they like it, you do it and everybody’s happy. It is really hard to move things around and then you add up the minutes and then find out, oh what you thought was a great schedule, is you know, 3000 minutes short. So now you gotta add 10 minutes to every class, and you know it’s really ugly all of a sudden.”

According to a Staff Survey that came back with just 100 responses: 79.65 % of staff advocated for Tam to consider a late start time, only 18% of staff wanted to keep the 8:00 start time compared to 67% who wanted start times between 8:30-9:00, 75% wanted the school to start consistently. 67.4% wanted passing periods to be between 5-7 minutes long; which is about the same amount that we have now. The responses were quite mixed in terms of classes on Mondays being too short with about a majority agreeing that classes are too short on Mondays. Tutorial seemed to be liked by the staff the way it is now.

If the committee did succeed, we would be seeing a similar schedule that started at 8:30 with shorter classes, while ending no later than 3:20. Although the committee no longer exists, the desire to solve this issue hasn’t subsided. Nonetheless, if Tam wants to change their schedule, now is the time to make another attempt, as the November deadline is rapidly approaching.