Fewer yawns, better grades

Sleeping in isn’t just for weekends anymore for the students of Eastern Commerce.

The Donlands and Danforth area school’s 600 students have been starting class at 10 a.m. since September after the TDSB began a pilot project to combat morning absenteeism.

At all other Toronto’s public schools the start bell rings at 9 a.m.

Two months into school, the new routine is getting mixed reaction from students and teachers alike.

Because of the business-focused curriculum at Eastern, many students commute from outside of the school’s zone, which means they spend up to an hour in transit.

“I’m not a morning person at all,” said grade 12 student Aylcia Manning, who commutes from Bayview and Eglinton. “I literally came late to school everyday.”

“Compared to the other three years, it’s helped a lot that I’m getting the sleep and breakfast,” said Manning, who moved outside her designated school zone after starting at Eastern but didn’t want to switch schools.

The extra hour of sleep has not only reduced the number of weary-eyed students arriving late for their first class, but has shown a significant improvement in their grades, according to the head of Eastern’s math department.

“I don’t have people falling asleep in class,” Wayne Erdman said. “They’re awake and they’re doing well.”

He requested the same first period class – grade 11 math – that he taught last year, so he could see the difference in the number of students who are passing the class.

Erdman said last year 45 per cent of his students failed. Now, only halfway through the first semester, he reported only 16 per cent of students are below a passing grade.

Students are noticing an improvement in their work as well.

“I feel that I’m learning more and my long-term memory is better,” said student Jason Luu. “I’m showing improvement on tests and quizzes and I find throughout the whole afternoon I’m not falling asleep.”

Although he’s more awake in class, Luu, who is part of the student council and manages the school basketball team, said many weekdays, it’s 7 p.m. by the time he gets home and eats dinner. This delays his homework time —and bedtime — into the late evening.

Classes at Eastern also end earlier for students twice a week. The bell rings at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesdays for staff meetings and at 2:30 on Fridays because many students attend mosque.

The school also has to adjust its schedule for extra-curricular programs, particularly sports teams who are playing against schools that finish class up to an hour earlier than Eastern.

Luu said that other teams often end up waiting, or Eastern students on teams get dismissed early from classes, which takes away from study time.

However, student Tiffany Gerro said that often teachers still come in for 9 a.m. and offer extra help for students.

The biggest complaint about the altered schedule is the compressed lunch, Erdman said.

The number of students who come late to their class after lunch is very high, he noted.

To make sure that no class time was eliminated from the weekly schedule, lunch break was shortened to 45 minutes.

Because Eastern is a relatively small high school, it does not qualify for cafeteria service, meaning students who don’t bring a lunch from home walk out to the Danforth to purchase food. Although it’s only a five-minute walk, the lineups at eateries are often long.

“You have to grab your lunch, eat, then go to class,” Gerro said of the lunch rush.

“It’s awful,” Manning added.

Eastern does offer a free breakfast program for anyone who wants to grab a bite in the morning.

Erdman said that to avoid after-lunch lateness, many students hold onto the breakfast, which usually consists of breads and fruits, and save it for lunch.

Erdman said the lunch issue is being reviewed by the school and board. If lunch is lengthened, it means time will have to be tacked onto the beginning or end of the day so that class time is not interrupted.