JDHS students, staff favor earlier start time

Student-led survey looks at Next Generation, other campus issues

Posted: Thursday, January 13, 2011

The majority of Juneau-Douglas High School students favor an earlier school start time instead of the late start, according to a student-led survey presented to the school board Tuesday.

The JDHS student council conducted a survey on elements of the district's Next Generation Plan that seemed to need change, as well as other campus issues. The council had issued an opinion to the school board earlier, but wanted to provide further data that shows the student body supports the council’s position. The council has a Next Generation committee.

It received survey responses from about 60 percent of JDHS students. Staff were also asked to participate and about 40 responded.

The student council took the survey data, which asked questions about a closed campus, academies, start time change, advisories versus enrichment periods and Mac's Cache (the food court), and broke the data down by class, student body as a whole, and staff.

Ninety-three percent of the student body opposes the closed campus policy, where only seniors are allowed to leave during the lunch or free periods. Staff were more split on the issue, with 54 percent opposed and 43 percent in agreement.

The report also examined who should be allowed to leave campus; all students, sophomores through seniors, only juniors and seniors, seniors only or "don't know."

Forty percent of the student body felt all students should be able to leave; 30 percent for sophomores on up; 22 percent for upperclassmen.

Staff differed from students, with 44 percent believing only seniors should be able to leave, but 28 percent saying "all students."

Staff were asked if they observed any attendance pattern changes since the implementation of a closed campus. Only 5 percent noticed more tardies or truancy, while 47 percent noticed no change. Twenty-one percent said there was less of an issue, and 26 percent said they had no basis for an answer.

As far as academic structure, the survey asked if students and staff preferred a general studies focus, specialized academies or a mix of both. Thirty-four percent of the student body favored a general studies structure, 33 percent said a mix and 8 percent favored academies. Nearly half of seniors favored general studies, while other classes were more evenly divided between general studies and a mix. No more than 10 percent in any class favored solely academies.

Staff were split 52 percent in favor of a mix, with 45 percent in favor of general studies.

Staff also were asked which type of educational approach they think benefits students most: 52 percent said a mix, 39 percent said general studies.

The district shifted from an 8 a.m. start time to a 9:15 a.m. start time for high school students, going on data that indicates a later start improves student achievement and shows students were likely to be more alert and awake.

Sixty-one percent of the student body favored the earlier start time. Freshmen largely favored the later start time with 56 percent supporting. The other classes responded differently, with 70-73 percent in favor of the earlier start. Seventy percent of staff also favored the early start.

Staff were also asked if they noticed an increase in student alertness and performance since the time change. Seventy-two percent said no; 18 percent said yes.

Aaron Abella, a student at JDHS, said he lives across the street from Thunder Mountain High School, but chose JDHS because of its theater program. He said with the later start time it also pushes back extra curricular times, so he doesn't get home until 9 p.m., does two hours of homework and gets a couple hours of sleep. When production time gets closer, he isn't in bed until after midnight. Abella, who is an honor student, said if the start time were earlier, he could participate in extra curriculars, complete his homework and get enough rest.

A district study that evaluates Next Generation every year found advisory periods had become glorified study halls the majority of students and staff felt were a waste of time. Seventy-one percent of the student body favored enrichment-style periods over advisories — only 8 percent said advisories help them the most as students.

Fifty-five percent of staff said enrichment periods were more helpful to students, while 5 percent favored advisories. The remainder didn't know.

If given the choice to remove one program or the other, 53 percent of the student body wanted to see advisories go; 15 percent said remove both, 15 percent remove neither.

The council opinion issued earlier said enrichment and endorsement programs were the most beneficial to students, and strongly opposed advisory periods and academy models, saying they're counterproductive.

The JDHS site council issued a statement about the student council opinion to the school board Tuesday. The site council voted to support the work of the student council on Next Generation, with the exception of closed campus and start time change until further review.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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