Public school students are back in the classroom across the state for the new school year. Well, some of them are at least.
Early school days mean that students in Hawaii have to get up early to be at school on time for the first bell. At Kaimuki High School on Oahu, getting students to arrive to class on time was an issue that needed a resolution.
In 2015, Kaimuki High principal Wade Araki and his administration changed the school day, starting at 9 a.m. instead of 7:50 a.m.
“We looked at our attendance records and saw that we had a lot of kids tardy within the first half an hour of school,” Araki said. “We used to start at 7:50, lots of kids were tardy between 7:50 and 8:30. We also don’t have school bus service, so all of our students use the city bus if they live more than a mile away, and if they’re on free or reduced lunch we issue them city bus passes for their use. A lot of our kids come on the city bus and a lot of times their excuses were that if they don’t catch the really early bus, they won’t make it to school.”
However, Araki doesn’t think every school could make a later school schedule work.
“I’m not proposing this for every school in Hawaii, but for our situation, it’s been a great fit. Traffic is better, too. It’s not that crowded at all in the mornings,” he said. “I’ve had no complaints from parents, nobody called to say ‘we don’t like late starts.’”
State Department of Education spokesperson Lindsay Chambers told TGI that no public schools on Kauai are considering changes to school day schedules for the foreseeable future.
“Each school community is different, and principals make decisions based on the needs of the students and their families,” Chambers said. “While this may be working for Kaimuki (keep in mind it’s still in the early stages at this school), it may not work for other schools. Principals are empowered to make these types of choices.”
Araki added that the later school day hasn’t completely eliminated tardies, but has worked with students to better understand why they are coming late in the first place.
“We asked some of the kids why they were late, and a lot of kids said that they’re late because they have to walk their little brothers and sisters to school and then catch the bus,” he said.
More so than just making sure students get to class on time, Araki wanted his students to be ready to learn once they got to school.
“Part of the research we did showed that people in adolescence until about 20 are not getting enough sleep. They’re sleep-deprived, and thus their brains are not as strong, sharp in the morning because of a lack of sleep,” he said.
With that in mind, Araki worked with Chaminade University to conduct a study on the benefits of sleep. While he didn’t have specific figures to tell TGI, he did say that students improved in terms of grades and an overall attitude to finish classwork.
“Our kids are being recorded in the survey and our 9th-, 11th- and 12th-graders all show that getting more sleep allows them to do better and think better in class,” Araki said. “For some reason, our sophomores sort of flat-line.”
Research shows that adolescents function best when allowed to sleep until 8 a.m. or later.
Studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics also show that inadequate sleep increases adolescents’ risk of depression, using drugs or alcohol, obesity and cardiovascular disease, to name a few.
One of the reasons why later school days work so well at Kaimuki High is that extracurricular activities aren’t affected.
“It doesn’t impact our sports at all. Our head coaches are, a lot of times, teachers on campus. But some of their assistants aren’t,” Araki said. “We cannot start practice before 4 p.m. because they’re working.”