A young relative of my mine, a 16 year-old high school student, recently left public school to attend a part-time alternative program in a nearby community. Classes run from 10AM to 3PM three times a week. His parents were leery to allow this move. But he was struggling socially and academically, and they’d tried everything else to improve the situation. When their son (I’ll call him Jon) brought a possible solution to their attention, they gave it serious consideration. Jon was tired of high school and simply wanted to test out with a GED. He searched the internet to find an alternative program, collected the requirements and details, made a case for what he needed, and his parents decided to let him try it.
So now he gets himself up in the morning, takes two public buses for a total of 60 minutes of one-way travel to attend this program. And you know what? So far so good. He benefits from class sizes of about 8 students. He receives lots of instructor attention. He no longer contends with social pressures. Instead, he enjoys a quiet learning environment. And most importantly, he now gets additional hours of sleep every morning (which nearly all teens need) and plenty of quiet, personal time each week when he stays home alone while his parents and siblings are away. And also nice to know, Jon continues his involvement with the music program at his old school, so he continues to benefit from its extra-curricular options. He also asked to get a job, his parents drew the line there and said NO! (I’m not the parent here, but I approve. Here’s why.)
If I had been fortunate enough in my teen years to have a) access to the internet and b) other options for high school, I would have done the same thing. Instead, when I reached the age of 15, I simply skipped school to get the time away I needed. I am perhaps the only U.S. teenager in the history of secondary school to regularly skip classes for the sole purpose of spending time in a quiet library or practicing piano in the music department practice rooms. I just needed time to reflect, to rest, to calibrate myself. Throughout my sophomore and junior years, I fell asleep in class constantly. I mean mouth open, drooling on my desk (probably snoring), asleep! By my senior year I’d wised up and used the system better. I scheduled a study hall for the first period of the day and then slept in. I volunteered in the library and was oddly responsible for checking myself into study hall. So I of course recorded that I had attended. I showed up rested and ready for second period. I took AP classes and wrote for the school newspaper and co-edited the yearly creative arts magazine and worked 15 hours a week. I wasn’t a slacker. I just wasn’t getting my physical, emotional and spiritual needs met in a heavily structured, crowded, go-go-go public high school environment. I needed something different. Oh to have been able to finish high school online!
This NPR article by Sara Sarwar, Down With 8 A.M. Classes: Undergrads Learn Better Later In The Day, Study Finds, reports on yet more research explaining the positive relationship between early class start times and poor college undergraduate performance. The quote below also touches on middle and high school start times.
“While there is no ideal start time for everyone, up to 83 percent of students could be at their best performance if colleges allowed them to choose their own ideal starting time for a regular six-hour day, according to Kelley.
The idea of students not working to their highest potential because of too-early timing is not a new phenomenon. Middle schools and high schools across the country have long been advised by researchers to start at later times for the sake of the students’ education, and sometimes, even for the sake of their health (Sarwar, 2017, para. 10–11)”.
Sleep was a big deal for me. I imagine it plays a big role for Jon as well. I think the need for some autonomy and self-determination are also at work here. Adding just a little of both to a teen’s milieu can go a long way to improving depression, motivation and whetting the appetite for life and learning.
Sarwar, S. (2017). Down with 8 a.m. classes: Undergrads learn better later in the day, study finds. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/04/19/524348257/down-with-8-a-m-classes-undergrads-learn-better-later-in-the-day-study-finds