Hilton Head district pilots late bell program for high school

{}By Ava Wilhite

HILTON HEAD, S.C. (WCIV) - Dorchester District 2 officials are considering a late bell schedule that would allow high school students to begin class at 9:15 a.m.

But a Beaufort County school started a similar pilot program this year and is already testing its effectiveness.

Beating the bell is becoming easier for the Seahawks.

"I live in Bluffton actually, so I actually have to go through traffic over the bridge and that's, that's a lot of traffic sometimes," said high school senior Carson French.

Another senior who noticed a change in attitude was Elexus Johnson. She said a late start for school is making all the difference when it comes to performance.

"I loved it. I really dig getting up later and I feel well rested," said Johnson.

Even with the lights dimmed, every head is up and eyes focused on the task ahead. It's a change Principal Amanda O'Nan considered for years, altering schedules so teachers aren't wasting time trying to educate zombie-like students.

"We had students getting on the buses, for here to get to school on time at 6:25 a.m. So, they would have to get up at 5:30 a.m. They would get on the bus, arrive to school, they got here, they ate their breakfast and they went to first block. So they were exhausted," said O'Nan.

She said most teenagers go to bed late, no matter the turnaround for the next day. So with the support of her superintendent, O'Nan re-scheduled the entire day.

"We built a totally different lunch schedule. Students used to have three lunches based on where they were positioned in the building. They were trapped in our cafeteria for 25 minutes to eat their lunch, socialize, go back to class. So, what we had to do was restructure what that looked like because there's a lot of wasted time," said O'Nan.

According to the new schedule, a late start would mean a later exit. The altered schedule also has to solve after-school situations as well.

"So, now they have to time to go to the media center, work on a little homework, do a little research, see their guidance counselor, do some tutoring in math, whatever they need to work on," she said.

The extended lunch hour or independent learning time means teachers don't have to wait until the end of the day to catch up with lesson plans.

"Last year I was staying to 3:30 p.m. or 4 p.m. anyway just wrapping up plans, because I didn't have time in the morning to do something. So, now I still end up leaving around the same time but I'm leaving and I'm not feeling as rushed. I'm not feeling as stressed. I feel like I've tied up all my loose ends for the day. So when I go home I don't have to do as much," said Dierdre Johns.

School administrators expect to have their first rounds of results on the late start experiment after report cards are sent home.