BAR HARBOR — This time last year, classes at Mount Desert Island High School started at 8 a.m., which meant some students had to catch the bus as early as 6:10 and arrive at school around 6:45.
But because of factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the school start time was pushed back to 9 a.m. And most students can now catch the bus around 8:30.
“So, it’s at least two hours more sleep for some of the kids right now,” Principal Matt Haney said. “I have heard nothing but positive feedback on the late start. People are seeing that their teenagers are healthier by not having to wake up so early.”
He said students also are arriving at school more alert and ready to learn, which mirrors what research has shown.
“With the way teenagers’ brains work, the way their circadian sleep rhythms work, they are just not wired as early–morning people,” he said. “There are mountains of evidence that suggest that schools that have shifted to later start times have healthier students, both physically and mentally; they have students who perform better academically; they have students who behave better; they have students who are set up for success.”
Haney said he had been trying for some time to figure out a way to have classes start later.
“The pandemic gave us an opportunity to make this change in an emergency sort of situation,” he said. “We used to have kids starting to arrive around 6:45, and that was an hour and 15 minutes before classes started. During a pandemic, you can’t have kids hanging around that long.
“So, this was a change we had to make. And once you make a change, it’s sometimes easier to keep it than it is to go back.”
Haney said the later start time is “a perfect example of never being able to go back, now that we know what we now know.”
He told the high school board last week that if the school were to revert to the 8 a.m. start time, he thought it would have a significant negative effect on students both academically and socially.
The early start time and early bus runs prior to the pandemic were largely the result of the high school and some of the island’s elementary schools sharing the same buses and drivers. High school students had to be picked up early so the buses could then go and get the younger students.
Even though high school classes now start an hour earlier, the school day still ends at 2:15 p.m.
“One reason we did that was to be able to fit the high school bus runs between the elementary school runs,” Haney said.
“To accomplish that, we have essentially decreased the length of each class from 80 minutes to 60 minutes. We know that is a pandemic solution; 60 minutes is not quite enough time. So, we are looking at lengthening that to maybe 70 minutes for the future.
“I would like people to know that we are working really hard on what school is going to look like when the pandemic eases and/or ends,” Haney said. “We’re excited to be able to go back to some of the things that worked for us before the pandemic and to use some of the things we’ve learned and been able to do during the pandemic to grow.”