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Are Later Start Times Helping Students In Unit 5?

First Student bus
Ryan Denham
First Student is Unit 5's transportation vendor.

A cost-cutting move in Unit 5 schools may be paying off in another way for students.

Unit 5 just started its second school year with new start times, including a later start for high school and junior high school students. The Normal-based school district’s high schools now start at 8:30 a.m., instead of 7:15 a.m. Junior high schools now start at 8:45 a.m. instead of 7:45 a.m.

The new start times were tied to Unit 5’s plan to cut transportation costs, due in part to unreliable state funding to cover the cost of busing its students. The plan, which also included more efficient route changes, saves the Unit 5 around $1.1 million annually.

There’s also some evidence that the later start times are improving academic performance for students. That echoes research showing that later start times can improve graduation and attendance rates.

“We feel very confident it was the right decision, and we’ll continue with this schedule,” Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel said this week on The 21st during a discussion about healthy rest for students. (The 21st airs every weekday at 11 a.m. on GLT 89.1 FM and WGLT.org.)

A survey of Unit 5 high school students found that 73 percent said the later start time positively impacted their academic performance, Daniel said. Around 61 percent of staff said the same thing.

Meanwhile, tardiness decreased among high school students, Daniel said.

The change hasn’t been without problems. The 2016-2017 school year got off to a rocky start due to transportation problems related to the schedule and route changes, though things improved in the spring.

“People for the most part are indicating that it is beneficial for our kids,” Daniel said.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.