Later start times annoy South Bay high school students — but some like it

Editor’s Note: This article was written for Mosaic Vision, an independent journalism training program for high school students who report and photograph stories under the guidance of professional journalists.

When California legislators pushed back high school start times to at least 8:30 a.m., their intent was to improve students’ health and learning.

How is the new law doing? After five months on new schedules, Mosaic found that some students like the change, but others report that it is having the opposite effect and presenting complications beyond the classroom. They say it has thrown off their biorhythms, made them feel more tired and interfered with part-time jobs after school.

Lillian Ly, a Gilroy High School senior, said the 30-minute shift back in her schedule forces her to leave school later, affecting her after-school job hours. Now she gets home later than in past years.

“They do it to promote more engagement and to boost people to be on time for school,” Ly said. “But what about the aftermath? Where’s the extra time of my day to study, when I have a job to help support myself?”

The new law, passed and signed in 2019, intended to reduce adolescent sleep deprivation and improve learning in classrooms. A legislative analysis projected the law would increase attendance. The bill, Senate Bill 328, was supported by many health organizations, such as the California Medical Association and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which argued that a later start time was more in tune with teens’ sleep cycles.

Some students in San Jose who previously had a 7:15 a.m. to 3 p.m. day now are tackling a later and longer schedule. Students interviewed said they are feeling fatigued and disoriented from the lifestyle change.

The new bell schedule also forced parents to drop their children off later and race to get to work on time.

Schools are taking different approaches to adapt to the new law. Many have decided to start the school day later but otherwise preserve their previous schedule. Others, like the East Side Union High School District, have instituted block scheduling.

In East Side, block scheduling entails students having one full day of school, with fewer classes for longer periods on the other days of the week. That is most commonly periods 1, 3, 5, 7 on some days and periods 2, 4 and 6 with an additional homeroom for some schools on other days.

So, what do students say about these changes?

Sylvia Lopez, a senior at Silver Creek High School, is not a big fan. Lopez enjoyed her old schedule. Even though she woke up very early for school, she returned home early, leaving her with more time for homework assignments or to simply rest. Now she finds herself staying later in school and completing homework later too.

Ironically, the new start time has made her more tired than her old schedule. She thinks it’s undermined her attention in class.

“I’ve noticed a trend in laziness,” Lopez said. “I’m not as awake or active during the day. By the fourth period I’m tired and I want to go home.”

Lopez is not alone. Silver Creek senior Tayler Nguyen, who also had an early schedule as a junior, feels the same way.

“During my last period, I got pretty tired because it’s usually the time I took my naps last year, ” she said.

Interviews with other students of the Class of 2023 echo the same sentiments, as they were the ones most accustomed to the way things used to be.

For Ly of Gilroy High, working means she can save, and pay off her car loan and bills. Her new school schedule prevents her from going home and taking a break before her work shift begins. She only has an hour between school and work to catch her breath. It can be exhausting.

“My shift ends at 8 and after that I have to do chores, shower, and eat; by that time it’s around 9:30 to 10 p.m. and I have homework to do,” she said. “It’s a very vicious cycle.”

Vanessa Maynard, a sophomore from Santa Teresa High School, also finds the new law bothersome. Maynard, whose school has a block schedule, said it can create hurdles. “They (students) get out of school way too late and it gets in the way of activities and other things,” she said.

But some students are supportive of the law.

Mayson Tran, a William C. Overfelt High School junior, said he’s seen more people attending classes and not being as late. He’s found it easier to wake up in the morning and get to school. In the past, if he overslept he would not attend classes, Tran said.

“I have definitely been more consistent with going to my classes on time, so I’m loving the new law,” he said.

Saanvi Rai, a senior at Silver Creek, who tends to be productive later in the day, finds that getting out of school later doesn’t affect her that much.

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