September 3, 2008

Students Prep for New Times

By David Harrison [email protected] 777-3523

One of the items on Shawnell Jackson's back-to-school to-do list was signing up his two young children at the YMCA's Magic Place after-school program. They'll spend about three hours a day there until he gets off work and can pick them up about 5:30 or 6 p.m.

With one day to go until the start of the school year in Roanoke, parents and students are adjusting to new school hours, which are changing in the city for the first time in 40 years.

Parents and students are tearing up old routines and making new arrangements with employers, relatives, friends and after-school programs. Meanwhile, school officials have been refining the transportation system to make the change work.

The idea is that the new times will help instruction. Rather than having older students start before the younger ones, elementary school students will now start school first, at 7:45 a.m., followed by middle and high school students at 8:45 a.m. This makes sense to school officials, because younger children tend to be more alert in the mornings, while anybody who shares a roof with adolescents knows how hard they can be to rouse from bed.

"It entails more work and stress for the school system trying to combine three times into two, but it's the right thing to do instructionally," said Roanoke School Board Chairman David Carson. He warned that there may be hiccups in the first few weeks, although "it certainly is my hope that it is a seamless transition."

In the past, most elementary students started at 9 a.m., while bleary-eyed middle school students had to be in class at 7:20 a.m. and high school students at 8 a.m.

"There were some kids who were kind of sleepy and kind of grouchy in the mornings," said Bryan Phifer, a seventh-grader at Lucy Addison Middle School.

Bryan said he's happy with the later start times. His mother, though, has had to work out a system with the mother of one of Bryan's friends.

Barbara Phifer will drop her son off at a friend's house in the morning before going to work. The two boys will then walk to school. After school, the boys will walk back to the friend's house until Phifer gets off work. Bryan went to an after-school program last year, but his mother was not satisfied with it.

Necomi Hash, the mother of a fourth-grader and a kindergartner, said the earlier start times for elementary schools means that she won't be around when they wake up. Hash, who works at night, won't be home in time, she said.

"It's going to be really hard," she said. But she's getting help from friends and relatives.

Wade Whitehead, a teacher at Crystal Spring Elementary School, said he was hopeful about the plan even though there may be some transportation glitches at first.

"For the first time, our young kids will be coming to schools when they're ready to learn," he said.

The school system has leased 10 new buses with video cameras and global positioning devices at a cost of $10,000 a month for seven years. Deputy Superintendent Curt Baker said the new buses are supposed to replace older ones, but he's keeping the older ones in the fleet in case they're needed. Administrators also are hiring new bus drivers and have spent the summer drawing new bus routes.

Buses will not mix middle and high school students, except for the buses transporting students to special programs, such as Forest Park Academy or Noel C. Taylor Learning Academy, officials said.

School officials also have tried to limit the number of bus stops where middle and high school students will have to wait together, which had caused concerns among some parents. Of the city's 1,272 school bus stops, only 88 will mix the two groups.

Kim Graham says the change will benefit her. Before, she had to stay at home until her elementary-age son went to school. Now, because elementary schools start before high schools, she will be able to go to work earlier. Her daughter, a freshman at William Fleming High School, will be able to take care of her son, who is a fifth-grade student at Monterey Elementary.

But that type of arrangement can be difficult in the afternoons with elementary students getting out at 2:25 p.m. and middle and high school students at 3:30 p.m. Roslen Hughes, the mother of a preschool student at Round Hill Primary, says she knows parents who are struggling to find somebody to take care of their younger children while their older children are still in school.

The later high school hours are also going to make Dakota Childers late for work. The Patrick Henry High School senior is supposed to be at his job at Shoney's about 3:30 p.m., the same time he will be getting out of school.

"None of us really have a choice, but it's going to affect my money," he said.

Some parents, though, see a bright side in the change. Although the family will have to pay for the YMCA after-school program, Shana Jackson, Shawnell's wife, is pleased that her children will have more time for activities and homework. One child is in fourth grade at Crystal Spring Elementary School. Another is in kindergarten at Roanoke Academy for Mathematics and Science Elementary School.

"We ran into issues with her when she played soccer," said Shana Jackson, referring to her fourth-grade daughter. "It just gives us more time for her to get her homework done. Although I will have to pay for the after-school care, I think it's an excellent trade- off."


n The city's public schools are moving from three start times to two, effective Tuesday.

n Elementary school students will now start school first, at 7:45 a.m. Their day ends at 2:25 p.m.

n Middle and high school students at 8:45 a.m. Their day ends at 3:30 p.m.

(c) 2008 Roanoke Times & World News. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.