SACO — The Saco School Department is proposing a later start for the school day, which officials say is a more optimal time for adolescents.

“The research is pretty clear,” said Superintendent of Schools Dominic DePatsy at an informational meeting for parents held at Fairfield School Wednesday night.

DePatsy referred to information provided by the non-profit organization Start School Later, which states research shows sleep hormone melatonin is secreted later in the evening in adolescents, making it more difficult for them to fall asleep early in the evening, and causing them to remain sleepy until 9 a.m.

Adolescents who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight, engage in less physical activity, suffer from depression, perform poorly in school and engage in unhealthy risk behaviors such as drinking alcohol, smoking and taking drugs, according to Start School Later.

Under the proposed schedule change, which would start next fall, Saco Middle School would begin at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3 p.m., except on Wednesdays, when the school day would start an hour later. The current academic day at Saco Middle begins at 7:25 a.m. and ends at 1:45 p.m.

Under the proposal, Gov. John Fairfield and Young schools, which teach students in kindergarten through second grade, would begin at 8 a.m. and end at 2:15 p.m., except on Wednesdays, when classes would end an hour earlier. C.K. Burns School, which serves grades three through five, would begin at 8:10 a.m. and end at 2:25 p.m. except on Wednesdays, when the school day would end an hour earlier.

All elementary schools currently begin at 8:15 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m.

DePatsy said Thornton Academy, a private school that educates local public high school students, is on board with the change, and is considering changing its school schedule as well.

The shorter day on Wednesday would allow time for teacher development. DePatsy said this will make more efficient use of staff development time and eliminate monthly early release days, which typically have more absences than standard days.

The schedule changes would not cost the school department any additional money, said DePatsy.

About 20 parents attended the meeting, and a few raised concerns regarding the scheduling.

Jay St. John said that while he thought middle school started too early, a schedule change was going to require an adjustment for his family.

Currently, his middle school student gets out of school earlier than his younger student, and is home before the younger child. Under the proposal, his younger child would get out of school first, and his family would need to utilize the city parks and recreation department’s after-school program or other child care.

St. John was also concerned about Wednesdays, when his middle school student would be going to school later. He said he doesn’t feel comfortable with his children getting themselves ready for school on time by themselves while he and his wife are at work.

Fairfield kindergarten teacher and parent Jamie Paige said she is concerned there would be an influx of children in the parks and recreation department’s before- and after-school programs, and that the program would not be able to accommodate everyone.

DePatsy responded that the recreation department was “very excited” about accommodating more students, and has made no indication that it will get maxed out.

There were also questions about after-school sports and activities starting later. Tracey Collins, a parent and a proponent of the later start times, said there is currently a gap time of about 30 minutes between the end of classes an the beginning of many school activities.

DePatsy said on the high school level, many athletic practices currently don’t start until later in the afternoon to accommodate coaches’ work schedules.

“This is going to be an evolving process,” said Joan Pelletier, a local physician, parent and consultant to the school department. Pelletier noted that with individual family schedules, some students may not get to sleep as late as others – but she believes the new plan is better than the current one, and students would still benefit from starting school later.

She said she understood the difficulties of trying to work around the new schedule, but “families are adaptable.”

The school department is holding meetings about the proposed schedule changes tonight at Young School, Tuesday at C.K. Burns and March 3 at Saco Middle. All meetings start at 5 p.m.

Information on the proposal can also be found at www.sacoschools.org.

— Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 325 or [email protected]


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