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North Allegheny officials discuss later start time, too much homework as stressors

WEBstressedstudentjpeg
WEBstressedstudentjpeg

A survey sent to North Allegheny parents, students and staff to gauge whether delaying the start of morning classes could help reduce stress found that while a majority favor such a move at the high school, they don’t want it changed in lower grades.

But the two-pronged survey , which also gathered opinions about the role the district’s grade-weighing system has on stress, did not address what some consider a major source of stress inducer for kids — the amount of homework they get each night.

“The morning is one of the most stressful times of day for parents and students,” said board member Andrew Chomos, who gave tacit support for changing start times. “It’s amazing what even 15 or 20 minutes will do in the morning if you can give them that (extra) time.”

But Chomos questioned whether eliminating a weighted grading system for Advanced Placement courses would be much of a stress reducer.

“It’s not so much how they are graded,” Chomos said. “What we have to do is work a little better with the faculty and make sure that just because somebody takes an AP course, that’s not necessarily a license for two to three hours a night worth of homework tied to that course. It’s nonsense for children to stay up till 2 o’clock in the morning (to do homework).”

Both student representatives to the school board — Jaime Martinez and Noah Fenton — agreed.

Martinez said “flooding” students with homework is always part of the discussion during monthly meetings with principals.

Fenton said while there likely are few students “who would oppose an extra half hour of sleep in the morning,” addressing the homework issue might be a better way to reduce stress.

While getting up early “stinks,” Fenton said, “I’m still not positive until I see the data that there’s a genuine correlation between a later start time having an impact on the stress a student has.”

He said the largest source of stress is “obvious.”

“Not to be blunt, but I could put a billboard out in the parking lot: It’s homework,” he said. “That’s what’s really putting stress on students.”

Board President Kevin Mahler said while the homework issue was not part of the initial survey, it does not mean it cannot be addressed as part of the district’s overall stress reduction effort.

“We do have to talk about homework,” he said. “But I don’t want to come at homework from a perspective of dumbing down the curriculum. An AP course is supposed to be hard, you should have homework.”

Mahler conceded that there may be value in trying to find a balance between providing students with enough homework to meet the requirements of a course without adding stress to their lives.

Among the 5,530 respondents to the multiple-option survey, 74 percent supported changing the high school start time from 7:25 a.m. to some time between 8 and 8:40 a.m.

However, only 36 percent of those surveyed supported such a change at the middle school, which begins classes at 8:10 a.m.

Instituting such a change at the elementary level was favored by only 7 percent of respondents.

A second survey sent out to high school students and all district parents and staff on whether eliminating or altering the practice of “grade weighting” could also help reduce stress.

Not having a system that lets students achieve higher overall grade-point averages by taking more challenging courses was not seen as a barrier for college admissions, according to 55 college counselors queried by the district.

But many of the counselors told the district that weighted grades are used to determine scholarship eligibility — a benefit that effectively sounded the death knell for eliminating such a system at NA.

The board had initially considered taking action on a change in school start times in January. But Mahler said the district might delay making any decisions until more information is gathered and analyzed.

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-772-6368 or [email protected] or via Twitter @TonyLaRussaTrib.

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