Wichita students offer thoughts on shorter school year, later start times

Wichita high-schoolers gathered at Intrust Bank Arena on Wednesday to discuss topics such as school start times and the effects of a new school calendar.
Wichita high-schoolers gathered at Intrust Bank Arena on Wednesday to discuss topics such as school start times and the effects of a new school calendar. The Wichita Eagle

Wichita’s revised school calendar has meant more homework, less time for extracurricular activities or after-school jobs and a more frantic pace in many classes, high school students told district leaders Wednesday.

“Our lessons are being crammed together, with more homework after school because they can’t fit it into the school day,” said Anisia Brumley, a senior at Northeast Magnet High School.

“I hope they … see how stressed students are getting. I hope they see that adjustments need to be made for practices and rehearsals, things like that, so that we … still have time to eat dinner and see our family.”

More than 100 Wichita high-schoolers gathered at Intrust Bank Arena on Wednesday as part of superintendent John Allison’s student dialogue session. Discussion topics, chosen by the students, were school start times and the effects of a revised calendar, which added 30 minutes to each school day but eliminated 15 days from the academic year.

District leaders approved the new calendar in June as a way to trim about $3 million from the budget. Under the new calendar, Wichita students will go to school 158 days this year instead of 173.

After breaking into small groups, students discussed pros and cons of the new calendar. Many students said the additional half-hour, which breaks down to only a few extra minutes per class, does not make up for 15 fewer classes over the course of a school year.

“There’s not really any room for error,” said Antonio Fenton, a senior at Northwest High. “Especially in AP classes and things like that – there’s less time to cover the material, and teachers are kind of freaking out already.”

Students said extra breaks, including a full week at Thanksgiving and two full weeks over Christmas, will be nice. But many said they spent a recent four-day weekend catching up on school assignments and projects.

Those with younger siblings in elementary schools, which now release students at 4:40 p.m., said the later schedule has pushed everything back. Some youngsters don’t get off the bus until 5:30 p.m. or later, they said, which delays after-school activities, dinner, homework and bedtime.

School board member Joy Eakins attended Wednesday’s session and said it was good to get feedback from the people most directly affected by the board’s decisions.

“There are always unintended consequences, and this is a really good way to hear from students about what they’re seeing in their classrooms and the community,” Eakins said, “to think through what of those … will continue to be barriers that we need to look at.”

Eakins, who voted against the shorter year, said she hopes the board can reconsider the issue before approving next year’s calendar. But a tight deadline and uncertainties over school funding will make that a challenge, she said.

“I don’t think it’s an issue of, ‘Once you go, you can never go back,’ ” Eakins said. “I think the board tries to look at what’s really the right thing for students and teachers and the community, and this is just a tough place to be right now.”

Students also explored the issue of school start times, a perennial debate in Wichita, where some magnet middle and high schools start classes at 7 a.m.

Earlier this year, the Wichita school board considered starting several more schools at 7 a.m. to cut transportation costs, and a national advocacy group called the proposal “unconscionable.”

Most students at Wednesday’s session said they wouldn’t want to start high schools later than 8 a.m. Several from early-start schools said they like getting out of school early because they have more time for after-school activities or part-time jobs.

“Getting up early prepares you for college and for work,” said Fernanda Alonso, a North High senior. “If you go to college and you have an early class, it’s not that bad.”

Although a growing body of research indicates American teens are sleep deprived, several Wichita students said they weren’t sure school schedules are to blame.

“I went to Allison Middle School, which starts at 7, and I remember thinking I’d get so much more sleep in high school,” said Madison Jensen, a senior at Heights. “But then I just stayed up later, so it really didn’t make a difference.”

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias