Johnson High students can sleep in an extra hour next year

Starting next fall, Johnson High School will test a later start time. St. Paul Public Schools is considering doing later start times at high schools and middle schools across the district.
Starting next fall, Johnson High School will test a later start time. St. Paul Public Schools is considering doing later start times at high schools and middle schools across the district. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

District decides to test later start time on East Side school

For Johnson High School students, it’s time to say goodbye to the yellow bus, and hello to Metro Transit.

Starting next September, most Johnson students will be taking public transit to school. And, they’ll start school an hour later in the day.

Hoping to test a potential district-wide later start time for high schools, Johnson will be the guinea pig school, with classes slotted to start at 8:30 a.m., as opposed to this school year’s 7:30. The other high schools in the district will stick with a 7:30 start time.

The move comes out of discussions between parents, teachers, St. Paul Public Schools administration and the school board -- hoping to give teens more time to sleep. School administrators said they have been considering changes to the start times for middle-schoolers and high-schoolers for a while.

“Research supports later start times for teenagers,” said Jackie Statum Allen, assistant director for strategic planning and policy for the school district.

District documents cite research that shows teens experience negative health and cognitive effects when sleep deprived.

The school board voted 4-3 against changing start times across the district in October, instead opting for a more gradual approach.

So next fall Johnson will be a test case -- officials will be watching how the later start time plays out for the students and faculty, and use the results as a way to decide whether later start times should be more widely implemented.

Statum Allen said Johnson High was picked as the test school, in part, because of its proximity to two major bus lines that serve Arcade Street and Maryland Avenue.

Go-To cards

An added perk of the new start times will be that students will have unlimited access to the entire Metro Transit system, seven days a week, from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Students will receive Metro Transit passes so as to not overburden the district’s yellow bus system, which will be needed to transport middle- and grade-schoolers at the same time high-schoolers are getting to and from Johnson.

With the passes, Johnson students will be able to stay after school for extracurricular activities, get to work, go to friends’ houses, or go see a movie.

“The partnership with Metro Transit is going to offer our students a lot of freedom and flexibility,” said Statum Allen.

“We fully expect our students to appreciate that ability to get around our city.”

Johnson’s principal Micheal Thompson said he’s hoping the transit access will mean more kids will end up doing extracurricular activities, and coming to more after-school events such as basketball games and theater productions.

And though it will take a lot of adapting on the part of students and staff, “the benefit of that card for our students will outweigh the stress of changing,” he predicts.

Statum Allen said the school will be doing information sessions with students before school starts next year.

“We will make sure students know how to use the cards and catch the bus,” she said.

And for parents and students wary of using Metro Transit, the district will also provide yellow bus transportation. But the school will hope to have the majority of the students onboard with public transportation.

Good attendance

Thompson said he’ll be hoping for positive changes to indicate the later start time is a success. In specific, he’ll look for positive trends in attendance, no negative trends in tardiness, and more kids spending time in the building after hours socializing and getting homework help.

He’s also hoping it will mean seeing fewer sleepy kids in first-hour classes.

He figures students will go to sleep about the same time they currently do, but they’ll have an extra hour to sleep in the morning.

With the extra sleep and the fact that it will be brighter out when they arrive at school in the winter months, that hour will make a difference, he said.

Thompson said it seemed that about 70 percent of students support the later start time, while 30 percent object.

Similarly, he said teachers were also divided on what they thought about it. Some of the teachers have been starting at 7:30 a.m. for 20 years, he noted.

Thompson said he’d be looking forward to the change on a personal level. “I’m not a morning person,” he said, and “it’s pretty clear that high school kids need more time to sleep.”

Students weigh in

A junior named Jocelyn said she has a tough time getting up early in the morning to make it to Johnson by 7:30 a.m.

“I think sleep will help and benefit a lot of people,” she said.

She said she’d taken a Metro Transit bus before, and while “it’s kind of scary at first,” she said, “you get used to it.”

And it can be a benefit, as it gives students “a taste of the real world,” she said.

She also said she could end up using the bus pass to get over to friends’ houses -- currently she has to ask her parents for a ride.

Neftali, also a junior, said she was looking forward to having access to public transit.

She said she was also eager to have a little more time to sleep in the mornings. In her first class in the morning, she said she will typically see five students sleeping or almost dozing off.

Junior Austin Nielsen said he’s “not a big fan” of the later start time. He plays three sports and with the current schedule often gets home at 6 p.m. feeling exhausted. He worries he could end up getting home even later after sports games with the later start.

He did note, however, that the Metro Transit Go-To card will help out some fellow students.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.

Meetings scheduled

School meetings have been scheduled to discuss Johnson High School’s later start time for fall 2015.
Parents and students can attend meetings on Jan. 28 or Feb. 26 at 6 p.m. at the school to ask questions and learn more about the start times.

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