This year, the teens at Toronto's Eastern Commerce Collegiate Institute are starting classes an hour later than everyone else in the city as part of a pilot project.
By KRISTIN RUSHOWYEducation Reporter
Mon., Sept. 14, 2009
Math teacher Wayne Erdman teaches Grade 11 Eastern Commerce Collegiate students during first period, which now starts at 10 a.m. (KRISTIN RUSHOWY / TORONTO STAR)
How great is late?
"I like it – I feel more rested," says 16-year-old Tiffany Gerro.
"I feel so much better. It's awesome, I love it," adds Grade 11 student Mike Stuckless.
"There's more time (in the morning), you feel more fresh and less gross."
This year, the teens at Toronto's Eastern Commerce Collegiate Institute are starting classes an hour later than everyone else in the city as part of a pilot project to determine if getting some extra sleep actually improves not just their attendance, but their grades.
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And so far, so good.
"The kids were on time – nobody was late" the first two days of classes, says Wayne Erdman, who started teaching math at the school 26 years ago and is now also the department head. "I could not believe it."
He's not expecting miracles – "they're still teens and I still expect some to be late, but not half an hour or 45 minutes," as in the past. And he's hoping that more sleep will mean better results for his first-period students, after a whopping 46 per cent failed Grade 11 functions last year.
Eastern is acting on the growing body of research that shows teens' brains are wired to go to bed late and get up late. At puberty, the chemical that induces sleep is secreted around 11 p.m. and shuts off around 8 a.m.
Most teens are also sleep-deprived at a time when their bodies need 8.5 to 9 hours a night; studies have shown that about three-quarters don't get nearly that.
When local trustee Cathy Dandy proposed the new timetable, the school looked at first-period statistics and found that, from punctuality to attendance, grades to credits earned, it was the worst.
At that time, school started at 8:50 a.m. and teachers said many kids would come to class like zombies, too tired to learn.
In the U.S., some schools that have experimented with a later schedule – with first period at 8:30 or 9 a.m. – report less student depression and fewer dropouts, and better test scores and grades.
One top U.S. researcher in the field said Eastern's 10 a.m. start is the latest she has ever heard of.
At Eastern, many students live out of district and have long commutes; others work late nights, even overnights, to support their family.
Principal Sam Miceli said he has heard positive reviews from staff and students and said enrolment is up this year, in large part to the new hours, "which is icing – any bump in enrolment is appreciated."
The board will study attendance, punctuality, class averages and credit accumulation for period one compared with other periods last year to this year, and next, said Miceli.
"If it proves to be a success, it should be as de rigueur as giving (younger) kids a nap. There's a biological need for it."
He knows critics will say it's coddling and indulging lazy teens, and others say it doesn't reflect the real world.
But he points out that not everyone starts work at 9 a.m. – even some merchants on the Danforth close to Eastern don't open until 11 a.m. – and that university students make their own schedules.
"So what is the real world?" Miceli said.
Already, though, the school has hit a couple of snags.
With a shortened lunch period – 42 minutes versus the usual 65 minutes, in part to accommodate early dismissal on Friday – some students are arriving late to class after lunch.
"That's longer than they'd get in the real world," says Erdman.
"That's going to be the biggest stumbling block."
Miceli said food has not been sold in the cafeteria for several years, so students often head up to the Danforth to grab a bite to eat. Students say that leaves them little time to sit down and eat.
With the lunch period now also an hour later, students are getting hungry – so next month the school will start handing out free breakfast to students as they arrive, said Miceli.
Student Ainul Majeed, who is vice-president of the student senate, likes the change but said she is no longer able to pick up a younger sibling from school. "Now someone else has to do it," she says. "It's less convenient."
Trustee Dandy says the board has received a lot of calls about the pilot project. "I'm excited about it," she says.
"I'm excited that we're going to track data and that we'll be contributing to the understanding of how to teach adolescents in a way that works for them."
She was also pleased that the school was able to work out a schedule that allowed for early dismissal on Friday, allowing Muslim students time for prayers.
'Oh, let them sleep': More on this subject in the parentcentral.ca editor's blog