How Early is Too Early?

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Georgia Casavant, Writer

The second semester has brought many changes to Bellows Free Academy, St. Albans, one being a significant difference in the school’s daily schedule. Instead of having three core classes, like students had in the first semester, students now have four, aside from their usual advisory and Enrichment blocks. With this additional class, the school-wide start time has moved from 8:00 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. 

Throughout the first semester, students did not start their academic classes until 9:30 a.m. as the 80 minute Enrichment block was the first period of the day. With this new schedule, BFA students now begin their academics two hours earlier, beginning at 7:30. 

The question is, how is this impacting the BFA community?

BFA attendance monitor, Angela Riley, stated that since the start time change, she has noticed an increase in tardiness and said, “[Students] start rolling in about ten minutes after the start time.” 

Along with impacting students who are learning in-person, teachers have also felt the impact with their virtual students as well.

BFA mathematics teacher and head varsity alpine ski coach, Nellie Dawson, stated, “The 7:30 start time is hardest on virtual days; you’re so much more inclined to stay in bed.”

Although she made it clear that the 7:30 start time is not easy, Dawson also said that “[She] really [does] like having the Enrichment period.” 

The earlier start time is crucial in ensuring that there is still an Enrichment period built into the day as the number of courses has increased from three to four.  The real question is, how have students adjusted to this? 

In a survey about the 7:30 a.m. start time presented to the BFA student body, of the 106 students who responded, 70.8% claimed that the earlier start time has impacted their tardiness, and 59% of students said that this change has negatively impacted their academic performance. 

How could 30 minutes have such an effect on students?

When asked about the biggest barriers they face with getting to school on time, nearly 50% of the students said having enough time to get ready in the morning was the biggest challenge. Many students noted that it was hard to get enough sleep. 

Of the responses in this survey, the majority of students also claimed that this change has had an effect on their mental health and/or overall wellbeing. 

Contrary to the common opinion of students, BFA’s physical education teacher, Shawn Lefebvre, noted that “The kids have adjusted well to the 7:30 time.”   She believes this adjustment has been smooth “mainly because [the students] have two days in person, then they get two days at home.”  

However, Lefebvre is the teacher of a class that requires students to be upbeat and actively engaged. This has allowed her to notice that “The energy, the alertness and the conversations [tended] to be way more present with the 8:00 start time.”

The parking situation also adds another layer of complexity to the question of whether 7:30 is too early or not. With extremely limited on-campus parking for students, students start looking for places to park within the community as early as 6:15 a.m. 

BFA guidance counselor Stephanie Hodgeman touched on this as she said, “I think the parking is a really big deal with the early start time.  I think that not having parking for kids and expecting them to be here and sitting in their classroom before 7:30 is a tall ask and stressful.” 

As can be seen, the schedule change has led to a variety of opinions throughout BFA.