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District hits snooze button on later start time pilot

Forum class, measurements still being developed

Northview — The district is hitting the snooze button on a late-start pilot originally planned to start on Jan. 17, after winter break. It will now likely take place in the fall.

Superintendent Scott Korpak said the sticking point is a new, hybrid (in-person and online) life skills course, tentatively called Forum. The details of that class are still being developed, and Korpak said that ambiguity is enough to pause the change, so that the course offerings and measurements of effectiveness can demonstrate to the board student progress.

“It’s got to be done correctly,” Korpak said. “We get one chance.

“One of the questions I will have to answer is ‘What benefit did the Forum course provide students?,’” he continued. “I think I have that answer ready to go for the second semester, but … there are a number of people (for whom) that isn’t how they operate. They see that as taking a risk with student learning. I can understand people have a different level of tolerance for ambiguity.”

Korpak said he thinks questions of progress measurement can be answered before school starts next August. A work group has been meeting to develop a curriculum for Forum, which so far includes lessons in career readiness, global awareness, financial literacy and independent living.

Northview is far from alone in moving toward this change. California recently enacted a 2019 law mandating a later start time for most high schoolers, though not without opposition. Given the myriad research about teens and sleep needs, other states also are considering or have already made the move. In Michigan, Berkley and Williamston are among hundreds of schools nationwide that have made the schedule adjustment.

Watch Superintendent Scott Korpak explain the late-start pilot, which has been paused to provide more time to develop a new course called Forum. The video was recorded before the pause.

Weighing Pros and Cons 

Meanwhile, district students, parents and staff have started to think about how the pilot will affect their schedules. 

Trying to pay attention in class while drowsy is a thing for many middle- and high-school students, especially that first, eeaarrly morning class. 

The initial plan was that Northview students in grades 7-12 would begin four of their five school days a full hour later than usual, yet end at the same time as they do now. “Late start Wednesdays” — which give staff the same planning and professional development time — would stay the same time, becoming “early start Wednesdays.”

Under the current plan, there will be as many class periods as there are now, but each will be about eight minutes shorter and the Forum class will be added.

Northview High School students interviewed by School News Network agree an hour more of sleep would probably help. But they also worry how a change in their school schedule would affect other aspects of their weekdays, such as morning sports or club meetings, busing schedules, daycare needs and getting younger siblings ready for school.

Junior Stephen Ladd thinks a later start might just mean students will stay up an hour later, negating a later wake-up time. 

“On Wednesdays (now) we have a late start,” he said, “so instead of going to school at 7:30 we go at 8:30. I just stay up an hour later on Tuesdays. I’m not getting more sleep.”

However, junior Kayla Mucha sees shorter class periods as “less time to get distracted. We have to focus, we have to get our work done.”

‘As a parent and a teacher, I believe in the data that teens need more sleep.’

— Northview High School teacher and parent Karen Michewicz 

Junior Addy Forbes said she has never fallen asleep in class but has put her head down for a few minutes occasionally, “just to be able to reset and focus for my next class.” She wonders if her already rigorous homework load will get heavier with shortened class periods. 

On the other hand, she already wakes up early for swim team practice, so “being able to push school (forward) an hour is going to be so incredibly beneficial for me, especially as a student athlete whose day winds down at about eight o’clock. Just to be able to see the sun when I first get in is going to be so helpful.” 

Senior Courtney Delaney admits to getting about six hours of sleep at night. She likes the idea of a later start and shorter class periods. But she said her younger sister with autism needs every minute of instruction time. If classes are shortened even by a few minutes, “she needs that time to process all that information. That time is critical.”

Courtney also worries that if her sister becomes frustrated by shorter class periods, “it will put more pressure on people at home to help out even more.”

Northview HIgh teacher Shelli Tabor

Tracking the Data

During the trial period, students in grades 7-12 will be picked up by school buses after those in DK-6. Sports teams, clubs and other groups that meet before school will continue at their regular times, and students who care for younger siblings after school will still be able to, given that there will be no change to the school-day end time.

To measure whether the trial — which would last at least one semester — is considered a success, the district will track student attendance and first-hour class tardiness, discipline referrals, average test scores in math and social studies, and family and student survey results.

“This is surprisingly complicated,” Korpak said. “The details can only be worked out if we work together.”

Many questions about those details are answered in a frequently asked questions page the district has produced.

In a video on the district’s website that introduces the pilot program and was made before the pause, Korpak said four separate studies from 2007 to 2013 found that 70% of high school students say they get fewer than the recommended minimum eight hours of sleep per night.

“The lack of sleep is causing harm to our students, and we can do something about it,” Korpak said.

‘Just to be able to see the sun when I first get in is going to be so helpful.’

— Addy Forbes, Northview High School junior 

In her 2022 book, “The Sleep-Deprived Teen; Why Our Teenagers Are So Tired, and How Parents and Schools Can Help Them Thrive,” author Lisa L. Lewis writes that research shows poor sleep affects academic success, mental health and athletic performance, and may contribute to what is called “drowsy driving.” Not getting enough sleep also could be implicated in substance use, depression, and even suicide, Lewis writes.

In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that middle and high schools should not start until after 8:30 a.m. The recommendation earned backing from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association. 

Northview High teacher and parent Karen Michewicz

Time to Collaborate

Parents and district staff are encouraged to weigh in, and with the pause in implementation, now have more time to do so.

Northview High teacher Karen Michewicz is in her 32nd year in the profession, nearly all with a first-hour class. She lives in another district, and her children attend Northview through its Schools of Choice program.

She and her husband liked the idea of a later start time for their senior, who works after school, sometimes until 10 p.m.

“And then (she) still needs to eat, shower, complete homework and get to bed,” Michewicz said. “It makes that additional sleep-in time even more precious.”

Michewicvz said she wished the later start would have been in effect when her son was in marching band, which often had late rehearsals and competitions.

“Weekends were just as busy,” she recalled. “It was difficult to watch him go back to school on Monday not rested.”

Before the postponement, she was concerned that her daughter, who just got her driver’s license and has no winter driving experience, would have to drive herself to school given that her mother will still have to arrive at the regular time. Before the pause until next school year, that meant a vehicle purchase and some nail-biting days were in the family’s future.

But ultimately, she said, “As a parent and a teacher, I believe in the data that teens need more sleep. I’ve spent years trying to wake kids up and keep them engaged, then had them (in class) later in the day and they’re awake, they are alert, they are attentive, they participate.” 

Students Appreciate Empowerment

Junior Stephen Ladd said he wants guidance from adults regarding how to make the most of the late-start trial. He and other students who talked to SNN said their already-packed schedules and responsibilities with younger siblings may mean sleeping later just won’t happen.

Kayla Mucha, also a junior, thinks the novelty of staying up later would wear off for her and that eventually she would hit the sheets earlier — which would help as she will still have to wake up at 6 a.m. to get her younger sister ready.

‘The lack of sleep is causing harm to our students, and we can do something about it.’

— Superintendent Scott Korpak

High school Principal Mark Thomas said that’s why collaboration is key between the district and families on what he called “the unwritten curriculum” of social skills, teamwork, time management and so on.

“When education works best, it really does become a partnership,” Thomas said. “This (pilot) gives us additional ways to talk about how we best prepare our kids to move forward. This is another opportunity to talk about what that work looks like.”

It may be the first time a district within Kent ISD boundaries has broached trying a later start for older students. Of that, junior Addy Forbes said, “I’m just really impressed with our district. Every year they’re like, ‘How can we improve?’ 

“We’ve always said our developing brains need more sleep, but we never really thought it would actually change, so I feel really empowered by them saying they should actually do something about this.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio


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