Plan would delay opening time for Unionville High School

EAST MARLBOROUGH>> Citing health benefits, Unionville-Chadds Ford school directors are considering a proposal to start the school day for high school students up to an hour later.

“This is a very big deal,” said Kathy Do, school director. “If this comes to pass, it will change a lot of lives, not just for the students but for the parents. I think it’s a real positive change.”

Unionville High School students are taking part in a study hosted by the Chester County Intermediate Unit to determine the benefits of delaying opening time for the high school. The initiative will be led by the Chester County Youth Forum under the mentorship of Mary Curley from the senior IU staff. Jeff Hellrung, school director, said if the students find there are clear, compelling and substantial benefits to students from a later school opening, they would be tasked with developing specific recommendations for implementing later high school opening times. School directors would then vote on whether it would be implemented.

“It seems our high school kids are going to bed late in part for physiological reasons,” Hellrung said. “They are going to bed later, getting up earlier, and showing up sleep-deprived, which gives them all sorts of problems.”

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Hellrung said the student-led project could become a model for high schools nationwide.

“I think we’ve got a real chance of changing the shape of the school day in our entire country, and if we do, it will be led by our students,” he said.

But the proposal presents significant challenges, he said. Changing the start of the school day involves making sure it is compatible with high school schedules and after-school activities, and existing busing resources. It would also present special challenges for parents who have to deal with child care.

“That’s the hard part to do this, within those constraints,” he said.

Students participating in the working group would receive periodic training and support from the CCIU in problem-solving, teamwork and communication skills.

Chester County school districts that want to consider the proposal would be given an opportunity to nominate approximately four to six qualified and motivated students and one faculty mentor to the working study group. Hellrung said teachers pursuing their administrative certificates may be ideal candidates as mentors. The CCIU would then host three to four meetings and provide the training, administrative support and a platform for communications, Hellrung said.

Student recruitment from other willing districts would take place this month and in May, the opening meeting would be held sometime in May, the first report would be completed in June, the second in September, and the closing report and recommendation in December.

Hellrung said delaying the opening of high schools until about 8:30 a.m,. or later, could result in health benefits, and ending the high school day at a later time could reduce after-school risky teen behaviors.

“This may change our entire schedule of school as we know it,” said Victor Dupuis, school board president.

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Fran Maye

Fran Maye is an award-winning journalist and a graduate of Shippensburg University. He and his wife Marianne live in East Marlborough. He enjoys golf and is a 4.0 tennis player. Reach the author at kennettpaper@gmail.com or follow Fran on Twitter: @kennettpaper.