OLYMPIC HIGH — A schedule change that allows students to come in later has been a success at Santa Monica’s continuation high school, said Olympic High School Principal Janie Gates.

Gates has decided to stick to the schedule, at least for the rest of the year, thanks to vast attendance improvements in 25 of the school’s classes. None of the classes showed a decline in attendance and more than half of the students preferred the change.

The idea to start classes almost an hour later was the brainchild of classroom teacher, Anthony Fuller, who is researching the biological clocks of adolescents at UCLA’s Principal Leadership Institute.

“We had been discussing for years the best ways to improve attendance because we have some of the best truants in the district here,” Fuller said.

Olympic High School is designed to help kids who are struggling to graduate within the mainstream school system.

Fuller read studies from research teams all across the world, including Taiwan, India, Europe, and the United States, and found that all teens have at least one thing in common: they stay up late.

“There’s plentiful research out there that shows that they’re not getting to bed,” he said. “But it turns out it’s not social media or video games.”

It likely has something to do with two of the hormones, melatonin and cortisol, that regulate our circadian rhythms, he said. As teenagers, new hormones are being released and they’re all out of whack.

Fuller brought the idea of opening at 9:15 a.m. to his colleagues last year. Given that Olympic is about a 20th of the size of Santa Monica High School, making the change was easier.

Still, Fuller says that later openings would benefit all the high schools in the district. He will present his findings to the Board of Education at a meeting later this year.

“I think it could definitely work across the board,” he said.

About 30 percent of the students that Fuller polled did not like the change. Olympic added an extra optional class at the beginning of the day, from 8:45 to 9:15 a.m. All of the teachers have shifted their prep periods to the beginning of the day. They are working the same number of hours and complying with the union’s standards, he said. The teachers like the change, he said.

Fuller hopes that down the road they can work out a system that would allow the early risers to take the morning class and leave early.

He continues to monitor data from the changes and says that anecdotally he’s still seeing attendance improvements. He’s also monitoring academic improvements and will have more information on that later this year.

“I think some people are resistant to the idea because they think it’s coddling the students,” he said. “They like to talk about walking to school in the snow uphill both ways and it’s all a fantasy. These students today have an unbelievable amount of pressure on them and if we can make changes that will help make them more successful then we should.”

 

dave@smdp.com

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