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W.G. Rice Elementary School

W.G. Rice Elementary School in South Middleton Township.

The South Middleton School Board may consider a swap in the start times of its elementary and secondary schools beginning in 2019-20.

District administrators have scheduled focus groups this week with department chairs, support staff and parents on a proposal that could come up again during the Jan. 21 board meeting.

Under the proposal, the school day for grade K-5 students in the W.G. Rice and Iron Forge buildings would run from 7:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.

Meanwhile, the school day for grades 6-12 students would run from 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. for the Yellow Breeches Middle School and Boiling Springs High School.

The swap is designed to make sure teenagers get the recommended amount of sleep they need to achieve their full potential and stay alert in class, said Melanie Shaver-Durham, director of curriculum and instruction. She said the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended middle and high school students start at 8:30 a.m. or later to meet a target of 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night.

Shaver-Durham said the time changes are in keeping with a district initiative to provide K-12 teachers with more collaborative time in their daily schedules.

“Right now, the elementary schedules allow for that collaborative time daily, but the middle school and high school do not have that time built in,” she said.

To arrive at the proposal, Shaver-Durham worked with the building principals and with Operations and Business Manager Matthew Ulmer. If enacted, the revised schedule for Boiling Springs High School would shorten each block of instruction and move the resource period to the end of the day to allow some students to leave as early as 2:45 p.m. for athletics or employment.

At Yellow Breeches, the plan is to remove a period of instruction while making each remaining period slightly longer, Shaver-Durham said. The proposal would cut a sustained silent reading period and reduce from two to one the number of creative arts periods.

Board member Jonathan Still is in favor of a proposal that would allow secondary students to sleep in a little bit more. He asked what the impact would be if the district started school 15 minutes later than what is being recommended in the proposal, 7:45 a.m. for elementary and 8:45 a.m. for secondary.

Bus pick-ups for elementary school aged students start at 6:45 a.m., meaning that some of the youngest children are out along the streets waiting in the dark right about now, Still said. “Fifteen minutes could make a difference for kids.”

Still is guessing the parents of secondary students would have less of an issue with the change in school start time than the parents of Rice Elementary School students.

“Their kids would be the ones that would be impacted by the earlier time,” Still said. He added getting their buy-in early would help make the process smoother.

Board member Denise MacIvor suggested district administrators seek the input of parents whose children are on the longer bus runs “to make sure you get a good cross section.”

Shaver-Durham said the one focus group would include two parents from each of the four school buildings. Student Representative Nicholas O’Brien said that number was too small to get a representative sampling of what parents may think of the start time swap.

Board member John Greenbaum said school start times was a topic of discussion during curriculum and instruction committee meetings held in 2017-18. At the time, the district had an interim superintendent and turnover in staff that resulted in little momentum for the proposal.

“I’m happy to see it resurrected,” Greenbaum said.

Even with the proposed changes, the South Middleton School District far exceeds the required number of instructional minutes at both the elementary and secondary levels, Shaver-Durham said. “We are all working together to make sure our students have the best experience here.”

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Education/History Reporter

History and education reporter for The Sentinel.