School Start Times: When Should the Bells Ring?

The Triangle’s public school systems generally operate on three schedules, or tiers.


Published:

An Nguyen/Shutterstock photo

As summer wanes, Triangle families prepare for more regularly scheduled days — organized by alarm clocks and bus stops, homework and after-school activities, packed-up lunchboxes and signed agendas. For some students, depending on when their morning bell rings, heading back to school can bring about a marked change in sleep routines as well.

School bell schedules are a hotly debated issue because they affect everything from parents’ work schedules to whether teachers and teens can squeeze in after-school jobs. Given that schools’ primary purpose is to provide students with a sound educational experience, the role bell schedules play in student performance and achievement is also receiving increasing attention.

Bell Schedules Vary Across the Triangle

The Triangle’s public school systems generally operate on three schedules, or tiers. In the Wake County Public School System, high schools start first, usually at 7:25 a.m., followed by middle schools and then elementary schools, the latest of which start at 9:15 a.m. In other Triangle school systems — Durham Public Schools, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and Orange County Schools — that schedule is basically flipped, with elementary schools starting first, usually by 8 a.m., and high schools starting closer to 9 a.m.

WCPSS Chief Communications Officer Tim Simmons notes that “many issues are considered” in establishing bell schedules for WCPSS schools, “but the biggest ones are available bus drivers, the school choices made by parents and the traffic patterns. All three have significant effects on routes and logistics.”

In WCPSS, nearly 50 percent of students ride the bus daily — but the bell schedules built around bus riders are not always a perfect fit.

Julie Ridenour’s daughter attends Farmington Woods Elementary in Cary, a WCPSS school that starts at 9:15 a.m. She says the late start time can be “a real problem for working parents. Finding quality before-school care is a huge issue.”

Michelle Weeks, whose daughter attends OCS’s Orange High School, says, “Starting later is nice, but getting out at 4 p.m. has a few disadvantages, especially if you participate in sports and practice isn’t over until 6 or 7. It can make for some late nights.”

School, Sleep and Teens

As it turns out, teens are biologically programmed for late nights. Early mornings are the problem.

Research has shown that hormonal changes cause a shift in teens’ natural sleep-wake cycle, turning early risers into night owls beginning around age 13. Add to that teens’ busier schedules, homework load and frequent use of sleep-killing electronic media, and the result is a national trend of sleep deprivation — a finding that in 2014 spurred the American Academy of Pediatrics to issue a policy statement recommending middle and high schools delay the start of class until 8:30 a.m. or later to help teens get their recommended nine hours of sleep.

Karen Shore, whose son attends WCPSS’s Holly Springs High School, which starts at 7:25 a.m., says he doesn’t get “remotely enough sleep. It affects his mood, his concentration. If he sits down for more than five minutes without a task, he falls asleep. I worry about him driving.”

Such concerns moved DPS officials to change their bell schedule for the 2016-17 school year, bumping most high schools to later start times and spreading elementary schools across all three tiers.

G. Scott Denton, DPS’s assistant superintendent for auxiliary services, says administrators had to consider the impact on before- and after-school programs, athletics and teachers’ professional development. Also, as DPS offers universal free breakfast, buses must arrive in time for students to eat before class begins.

“It was like putting a puzzle together — and some of the pieces weren’t labeled,” he says, noting there was also no increase in their budget. “But it came together pretty smoothly in the end.”

For Jennifer Shrewsbury, whose son attends Durham School of the Arts, which has a 9:15 a.m. start time, the trade-offs have been generally positive.

“I like being able to spend more time with him later in the evenings when things have quieted down without worrying he is staying up too late,” she says. “For us, the later start time has been a positive experience.”

In CHCCS and OCS, which are significantly smaller school systems than DPS, high schools have started closer to 9 a.m. for years. Some students and families in WCPSS, the state’s largest school system, are hoping for a similar change.

“I have worked in a school system where the school day started at 7:30. There was a high level of tardies for first-period classes. I think starting later is beneficial.” — Jessica Harris, a counselor at East Chapel Hill High School

Weighing Options

Apex Friendship High School junior Nylah Robinson and her classmates focused on the issue of school start times last year for a group research project because they felt it was important to their community. The group’s resulting petition made the local news.

“Talking to other students and parents, we found they felt the same way,” she says.

Interestingly, WCPSS was the site for a study on how start time affects student achievement by Colby College researcher Finley Edwards. His May 2012 analysis, “Do Schools Begin Too Early?” suggests that delaying the start of middle school by one hour — from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. — results in measurable gains on standardized math and reading tests, particularly for students scoring in the bottom third. Finley also found later start times are associated with reduced TV viewing, increased time spent on homework and 25 percent fewer absences.

Jessica Harris, a counselor at CHCCS’s East Chapel Hill High School, says she has witnessed a similar connection.

“I have worked in a school system where the school day started at 7:30. There was a high level of tardies for first-period classes,” she says. “I think starting later is beneficial.”

However, for WCPPS, the logistics of such a shift for its 177 schools have proven too costly in past analyses. In 2016, school spokesperson Lisa Luten estimated the additional buses and drivers necessary to change the school system’s three-tiered schedule would cost $100 million—money that, with budgets as tight as ever, is not likely to be approved.

“The state considers Wake’s bus transportation system to be quite efficient,” Simmons says. “There are no financial incentives built into the state’s funding system for creating transportation inefficiencies.”

Edwards’ study suggests, however, that a change in school start time may pay for itself in other ways. “Later start times have the potential to be a more cost-effective method of increasing student achievement than other common educational interventions, such as reducing class size,” he notes.

In the coming months, DPS staff will analyze student achievement data and review family surveys to determine whether its changes have been worthwhile, Denton says.

“We certainly hope all high schools will grow academically and that we can tie the new bell schedule to that,” he concludes. “I hope this change has been a good one for students, families and our schools.”

School Transportation by the Numbers

SCHOOL SYSTEM

NUMBER OF SCHOOLS

NUMBER OF STUDENTS

NUMBER OF BUS RIDERS

NUMBER OF BUSES RUNNING DAILY

NUMBER OF MILES BUSES RUN PER DAY

WCPSS

177

160,000

75,000-80,000 (46-50%)

760

100,000

DPS

55

33,000

18,570 (56%)

250

23,000

CHCCS

21

12,100

4,400 (36%)

74

5,356

OCS

13

7,260

3,800 (52%)

66

8,177

 

Bell Schedules by School System

With a few exceptions for individual schools, the Triangle’s four public school systems all operate on a three-tier system that allows them to run school buses on multiple routes each morning and afternoon. One school, Apex High School, has been relocated to the new Green Level High School for two years so it can be renovated. Consequently, its schedule will be 7:10 a.m.-2:03 p.m. to allow for additional bus travel time needed for the new location.

SCHOOL SYSTEM

TIER 1

TIER 2

TIER 3

WCPSS

7:25-2:18 (High)

7:30-2:15 (Middle)

8:15-3 (Middle)

8:30-3 (Elementary)

9:15-3:45 (Elementary)

DPS

7:30-2:20 (Middle)

7:45-2:15 (Elementary)

8:30-3 (Elementary)

9-4 (High)

9:15-3:45 (Elementary)

CHCCS

7:50-2:30 (Elementary)

8:20-3:10 (Middle)

8:45-3:55 (High)

OCS

7:55-2:50 (Elementary)

8:20-3:35 (Middle)

8:45-4 (High)

 

Karen Lewis Taylor is a former high school teacher with extensive experience writing about education, child mental health and students with special needs. A lifelong resident of the Triangle, she lives with her family in Apex.

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

Tech Gifts for People Who Truly Need Them

Not all children have easy, early access to the digital world.

New 'Seedlings' Exhibit Opens at Marbles Kids Museum

This imaginative greenhouse exhibit invites kids to get hands-on with planting.

Fun Things to Do in the Triangle This Weekend, Nov. 24-26

This weekend, practice thankfulness at a park in Raleigh, create with with fun materials in Durham, get a scientific perspective on an old favorite movie in Raleigh, and tour a historical park in Durham.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

November 2017

Step back in time with a 19th-century costumed interpreter and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Registration encouraged online. Tickets available at the...

Cost: $5/adult, $3 ages 7-16. Free for ages 6 and younger

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Celebrate the wonderful world of exotic animals and reptiles. Enjoy live specimens, presentations, raffles, vendors and much more. Purchase tickets online.  

Cost: $12 ages 13 and older, $5 ages 5-12.

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds, Kerr Scott Building
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

More information

Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
Website »

More information

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

More information

Kicks off the holiday season with local art, music, food, and family activities at various locations in Durham’s historic downtown district. Presented by the Durham Arts Council with support...

Cost: Free and open to the public.

Where:
Downtown Durham
120 Morris St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Sponsor: Durham Arts Council
Telephone: 919-560-2719
Contact Name: Susan Tierney
Website »

More information

Participants develop their naturalist skills and understanding of local nature. Ages 5-8 with parent. Register online.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Celebrate the natural world and where favorite Thanksgiving foods come from. Make a craft. All ages with adult. Register online.

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Search the preserve for hidden holiday-themed clues and learn about native wild turkeys. Make a turkey decoration. Ages 5 and older with parent. Register online. Choose course code...

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve
2900 Horse Shoe Farm Rd.
Wake Forest, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Search for salamanders, owls and more. Ages 10-13. Register online.

Cost: $12/resident, $16/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Park West Village hosts Winter Wonderland in the District. This year’s event will take place the weekend of November 17th. Take the family to enjoy train rides, magical winter lights, live...

Cost: Free; $5 donation for sledding

Where:
Park West Village
3400 Village Market Place
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Telephone: 919-234-6710
Contact Name: Conner Dixon
Website »

More information

See ponies, hunters and jumpers compete in an event that benefits Duke Children's Hospital. Visit the website for hours and fees.

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Gov. James B. Hunt Horse Complex
4601 Trinity Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Make crafts celebrating turkeys. All ages with adult. Meet at the Cardinal Shelter. Registration not required. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Learn what it was like to be a kid at the first Thanksgiving. Play games and make a food collage. Choose either the 10:30-noon and 2-3:30 p.m. session. Ages 7 and older. Register online.

Cost: $6/child

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, AL
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Toddler Time is a special time for ages 5 and younger to bounce under the supervision of their parents, and without interference from the big kids. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $7-$10

Where:
Sky Zone Durham
1720 Guess Rd., Ste. 90
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Explore the woods and shoreline for signs of nature and collect treasures to make a craft. Take a full water bottle, snack and a bag lunch. Ages 6-11. Meet at the Cypress Shelter. Advance...

Cost: $16/child

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Jackie Trickel
Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Listen for the sound of silver bells and climb aboard in your pajamas for a first-class journey on the Polar Express. Come early to meet Santa and enjoy kid-friendly activities and a traditional...

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Athletes improve their flexibility, balance, joint mobility, as well as body and breath awareness. Special attention will be paid to core strength and posture and its importance in performance and...

Cost: Call for fees

Where:
Little Guru Kids Yoga and Creative Arts
215 Glenwood Avenue, Suite A
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Little Guru Kids Yoga
Telephone: 919-345-5873
Contact Name: Jen Bluestone
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Celebrate what you're thankful for. Play a game and make a pine cone turkey craft. All ages with adult. Drop-in program. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Shop more than 20 local vendors offering amazing gifts this holiday season. Enjoy daily raffles with proceeds benefiting local animal rescue Paws in the City. Kids can enjoy crafts...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Crossroads
333 Crossroads Blvd
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

A wonderfully kid-paced hour featuring music, play and dancing with toddler stars singing on the mic at Cotton's gently amplified & participatory music show. Children delight in...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Pump It Up Raleigh
10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Sponsor: Pump it Up
Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
Website »

More information

Read the story by Karma Wilson and make a Thanksgiving-themed craft. All ages. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, AL
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

See a contemporary re-imagination of Tchaikovky's timeless music. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $35-$55

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See a contemporary re-imagination of Tchaikovky's timeless music. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $35-$55

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Catch this comedy classic on the big screen—as the symphony plays the charming and delightful score by John Williams live. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Fit & Able Productions presents the Turkey Chase trail festival at Umstead Park. Take part in a 5K, 10K or 20K. After the race, enjoy fruit, brownies and other...

Cost: $25-$45

Where:
Umstead Park
8801 Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Sponsor: Fit and Able Productions
Telephone: 919-673-4689
Contact Name: Travis
Website »

More information

Celebrate what you're thankful for. Play a game and make a pine cone turkey craft. All ages with adult. Drop-in program. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Toddler Time is a special time for ages 5 and younger to bounce under the supervision of their parents, and without interference from the big kids. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $7-$10

Where:
Sky Zone Durham
1720 Guess Rd., Ste. 90
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Shop more than 20 local vendors offering amazing gifts this holiday season. Enjoy daily raffles with proceeds benefiting local animal rescue Paws in the City. Kids can enjoy crafts...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Crossroads
333 Crossroads Blvd
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

The Raleigh Boychoir makes an appearance before its big Christmas concert.

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Take a 30-minute tour to view the main power drive and milling machinery. Tickets available inside the park's visitor center. Online registration encouraged.

Cost: $5/adult, $3 ages 7-16. Free for ages 6 and younger

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Explore the historic nature of Leigh Farm Park with a friendly guide. Venture inside the historic farmhouse while being captivated by tales about life at Leigh Farm throughout the years.

Cost: Free

Where:
Leigh Farm Park
370 Leigh Farm Rd.
Durham, NC  27707
View map »


Sponsor: Durham Parks and Recreation
Telephone: 919-560-1116
Contact Name: Natalya Buckel
Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Catch this comedy classic on the big screen—as the symphony plays the charming and delightful score by John Williams live. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit Module

Magazine

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Directories

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2017-18 Education Guide offers 660 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our debut Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. Plus, find out who our 2017 Readers' Favorites are.
Edit ModuleShow Tags