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South Hills

Baldwin High students starting days earlier this year

| Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, 2:24 p.m.

Baldwin High School students are starting their school day 10 minutes earlier this year.

While the move to a 7:35 a.m. start time — up from 7:45 a.m. — goes against studies that indicate high school students should actually be starting their days later, Superintendent Randal Lutz said the change was made for safety and has gone smoothly. In fact, the change makes sense for bus riders, who already were getting to school early and just waiting for the bell to ring and classes to start.

“What we have found is No. 1, it’s a safer environment,” Lutz said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later so students can get enough sleep. A study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that reviewed data for the 2011-12 school year found that between 75 and 100 percent of schools in 42 states start before 8:30 a.m.

In most schools in Baldwin-Whitehall, there is a 15-minute period between when the doors to the school open in the morning and when classes begin.

At Baldwin High School, for many years, the back hallway near the gymnasium and pool opened for students at 7:20 a.m. Students could go to the cafeteria for breakfast. However, the remainder of the building didn’t open until 7:30 a.m.

Between four and five staff members were on duty to man the back hallway, while between 700 and 1,000 students poured in and waited. Staff members previously were given between 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. to meet with administrators, prior to starting their official day.

“The kids were well behaved — there were no problems,” Lutz said. “But we identified that as an area of potential risk because essentially the doors were open, the students were there and the staff-to-student ratio was very high in the wrong direction.”

Instead of having students just stand around, district leaders looked at having buses arrive later, Lutz said. However, the district owns its own bus company and only has a certain amount of buses. It takes about 45 minutes for a bus to reload for another round.

If the district bumped the start time back at the high school, the end of the day would be bumped back by 10 minutes, as well. That ultimately, would trickle down and affect the times elementary students get home, Lutz said.

District leaders looked at starting elementary students earlier, but having them stand at a bus stop in the dark was not a good idea, Lutz said. Also, at the end of the day, many families rely on their older children getting home first to help their younger child get off the bus. If the schedules were reversed, that wouldn’t work.

Instead, they opted to start the day earlier at Baldwin High School. Now, kids get out 10 minutes earlier, too — at 2:20 p.m.

“We said, ‘Instead of opening the building partially, let’s just open the building,’” Lutz said.

Buses still arrive at the same time, but students now start learning earlier rather than spending that time waiting.

“Most kids were sitting here milling around, so we said, ‘Why not make that more productive?’ If they’re here. Let’s get started. Let’s go,” he said. “The car riders or car drivers, they did see a 10-minute adjustment.”

Out of the school’s 1,500 students, there are about 300 parking spots for students drivers.

For the most part, the change has gone over well.

“Do you get the kids belly aching? Sure. Those that drive don’t have as much time to go get their Dunkin’,” Lutz said. “The bus riders, I think, enjoy it because they’ve been forced to get up that early to get the buses here. Now they’re here at 7:20, and the school day starts quicker.”

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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