Should school start later? High school students weigh in

The St. Paul Public School district is planning a controversial vote on November 15 to change school start times for most high school students from 7:30 AM to 8:30 AM, for the 2018-2019 school year, according to the Pioneer Press. Changing school start times for the district has been discussed for years and the vote has been pushed back several times.

The SPPS district supporters of later start times for high school students cite studies that claim later sleep patterns, prevalent among high school students, have a biological basis. This results in 69% of high school students not getting 8 hours of sleep a night, when they should be getting at least 9. They contend also that later school start times do not affect when high school students fall asleep (according to the SPPS website page on the topic). Also on their website, they claim that an 8:30 AM start time is better academically, causing more students to score “proficient” on MCA math tests.

Those against later start times explain that implementing them will be costly and ineffective. According to the Pioneer Press, adding the necessary additional bus routes will cost the district at least 2 million dollars per year, and Metro Transit cannot afford to help without money from the state. They also protest that high school students will get home too late, especially if they are enrolled in extracurricular activities. The district admits that if school start times are changed, high school students who take care of siblings in elementary school may be unable to, as most elementary school start times would move from 8:30 AM to 7:30 AM, causing their school days to end earlier than high school students’.

But, how do high school students feel about later start times? Their opinions are often overlooked in this discussion. Below are interviews of four 9th grade students who gave their opinions on the topic.

Miranda Bade

I want the start times to stay the same. I’m involved in sports after school and it is nice to get home early. If the start times change to 8:30 AM I would get home later. This makes it hard to do go to practice and get all of my homework done. Getting off of school earlier makes it so I have more time after school to do things and to get stuff done.

Peter McHie

Personally, I think it would be a great decision to change the start times to 8:30 AM. I, for one have a difficult time waking up so early, and because of this I feel like it might be impacting my performance at school, even if it’s only a little. Also, my general demeanor/attitude towards school in general is infuenced by the early start time as I often feel very sad/angry in the mornings. I’m sure that having extra time to sleep would change that. Other students probably feel the same as I do.

Celia Morris

I don’t want start times to change because of after school activities. I play volleyball in the fall and track in the spring. If start time was to go later I would come home from my sports at 5:30 PM and on game nights I might get home as late as 10:30-11:00 PM, with lots of homework left to do. This might leave me to going to bed around 1 AM or 2 AM.

Ryder Hefferan

I would vote against changing the time, because I personally feel comfortable with waking up that early to go to school and I love having as much free time as I do after school. But, I do understand that some people would sacrifice free time for more hours of sleep.

Would you call the police if you witnessed a murder?

In 1964, The New York Times published Martin Gansberg’s now famous article “Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police” about the killing of Catherine Genovese. It claimed that thirty-eight people witnessed a murder (of a woman some of them knew) and did not intervene, giving lazy excuses for their lack of action afterward.

Later, the title was proven partially false in another New York Times article, but the story still led to the formulation of the bystander effect theory; a theory in psychology which, according to Psychology Today, posits that observers in emergency situations are less likely to intervene the more other observers there are around them, even observers who would be likely to intervene if they were alone. The phenomenon is prevalent and well-documented. It has even been discovered in the behavior of five-year-olds in a study published by the Association for Psychological Science. According to Psychology Today, Psychologists explain the bystander effect for many reasons, but namely that in emergency situations humans’ sense of personal responsibility is diffused when surrounded by other bystanders, and that humans model their behavior off of those around them, so if no one is intervening they are unlikely to.

The popular ABC primetime show What Would You Do? features many examples of the phenomenon, staging offensive acts in public and seeing how bystanders react. Often on the show, large groups of bystanders react late, or do not react at all.

Last week, Ms. Ostendorf’s English 9 Accelerated class read “38 Who Saw Murder…” and learned about the bystander effect. They watched the following video demonstrating and discussing the effect:

From “Coolpsychologist” on YouTube:

Below are excerpts from interviews of three students in Ms. Ostendorf’s class. They gave their opinions on “Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder…” and the bystander effect, commenting on where it manifests in their lives.

Jack Malek, 14

What was your initial reaction to reading “Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder…”?

I was really surprised to read that thirty-eight people saw a woman get killed that they knew and they did nothing about it, they did nothing to save her.

Do you think the bystander effect is a real phenomenon?

I do. This is happening right here and this story is a perfect example. Because people think when they see something, and there are a lot of people around that someone else is going to do something about it. So, this is a perfect example.

Did reading “Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder…” lead you to question yourself?

I questioned myself, “Have I ever been a part of the bystander effect? Have I ever done this? Have I ever been part of this phenomenon?”

Do you think you would have reacted in this situation surrounded by other bystanders? Would you now?

After reading this story, yes. But, I don’t know if I would have been part of the bystander effect before.

Otto Schmidt, 14

What was your initial reaction to reading “Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder…”?

I was somewhat shocked and surprised that the people didn’t help when needed, but after thinking about the story and realizing the circumstances of it being the nighttime and people not really wanting to help and thinking somebody else would, I wasn’t super surprised by the outcome.

Did reading “Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder…” lead you to question yourself?

It definitely made me think more about ignoring, not just when people are in need but ignoring a lot of things, or just doing things because everybody else is doing them even though maybe it’s not the right thing to do.

Before you learned about this, do you think you would have reacted the same way as the other 38 people if you were in that situation?


How would you react now?

At the very least, it would lead me to think about what happened here. And then, to act.

Henry Aerts, 14

What was your initial reaction to reading “Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder…”?

Honestly kind of shocked but in a way I was also kind of not surprised. Because, I’ve seen people doing that where someone is in need but no one helps, they just walk by because they think that someone else will help them or they just don’t want to get involved. So, I’ve seen that kind of thing before.

How do you see the bystander effect in your personal life?

For example, when the teacher asks a question in class, a lot of times no one says anything because they think that someone else is going to answer it, but then in the end it just goes awkward and silent because no one can answer it, thinking that someone else would.

Did reading “Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder…” lead you to question yourself?

Yeah, it kind of did. Because, I wasn’t sure if I would have done anything different. Maybe I would have called the police, I don’t know.

How would you react now?

If it happened tonight, I would definitely call.

Hopefully, with more knowledge about the bystander effect, people will begin to intervene more in emergency situations, even when surrounded by others.