By Lori Campbell
When I consulted our Associate Superintendent of Business for the Kern High School District, Dr. Mike Zulfa, about the plans for how our district would comply with SB 328, he wrote, “So I am blaming you for all of this disruption! 😊” You see, I am the one who wrote the Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum module: “Teenage Sleepers: Arguing for Your Right to Sleep In.”
In the early stages of ERWC 3.0 development, I had proposed the module after watching the TED Talk with sleep expert Dr. Wendy Troxel, “Sleepy Teens: A Public Health Epidemic.” Troxel argues that the hormonal changes in teens cause them to reach REM sleep later than in adults and are not fully out of the sleep cycle until 90 minutes after adults are normally “awake.” She along with the PAC Start Schools Later fought for legislation that requires schools to start later in the morning for both middle-schoolers and high school students. I thought this would be a great topic of discussion for English 11 courses. It addressed all the points of an engaging module: all students could identify with the topic, there were definitely two contested sides of the issue, and students could actually participate in the political discussion. This module also introduces students to the construction of arguments. I never expected it to work so well!
The Start Schools Later bill was first passed in the California legislature in 2018, but then (to my great relief) Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it citing that individual districts should decide what to do with the information. In fact, our district already provided online instruction as an option for students who had a difficult time functioning before 9:00 am. Students began their day at in-person schools during third period and took two of their classes online through the Kern Learn program–an independent studies program that offers UC-approved A-G coursework at the same rigor as the in-person classes on our school sites. The majority of assignments our students submit are completed between the hours of 5:00 pm and 3:00 am. They are pretty good, too!
A Changing Context
Well, someone decided to try again when Governor Gavin Newsom was elected, and we all know what happened next.
With the signing of SB 328 on October 19, 2019 (the month after the 3.0 modules were officially launched) middle school districts and high school districts in the state of California were given three years to figure out a plan to start their instruction no earlier than 8:00 am and 8:30 am respectively. And we also know what happened after that. COVID-19 and the subsequent quarantine and teach-from-home nightmare placed this legislation at the back of the implementation line. Coming out of the stupor in winter of 2021, districts realized they really hadn’t thought about what was needed to completely shift the school day to 90 minutes later. I know that the Board of Trustees and KHSD Superintendent, Dr. Bryan Schaefer, petitioned the governor vehemently to at least delay the implementation of the new schedules but to no avail.
Modifying the Module
In the meantime, I wanted to look at my module and see what could be salvaged. Just like all good ERWC module topics, this subject is still timely. As furious as I was with Governor Newsom for creating this chaos, I finally realized that the implementation of this plan would still allow students to find their civic voices. In our second week of late-start implementation, the students are grumbling about as loudly as the teachers and parents. Football games are STARTING at 8:30 at night. Buses without air conditioning are transporting students home at the hottest hours in Bakersfield with highs of 103-108. Parents are having to shift their days completely if they need to pick up their students later in the day. Teachers who turn into instant moms and dads when they arrive home are more exhausted and have less time to prepare dinner. It’s a hot mess in Kern County. I can only imagine what it is like in your neck of the California woods.
The changes we are going through add a new dimension to this module, and we will be entering a period of data gathering. After a year or two, we will be in the position to look at the results: have attendance rates improved? Has the mental health of teens overall improved? Are students more successful in middle-schools and high schools? I think there is still plenty to argue with this module. I have revised some texts, the prompt, and some of the activities to reflect the passage of SB 328. This includes adding the bill itself to the module allowing teachers the opportunity to add the format of a foundational document to their instruction. This Google Doc provides the modifications that I have made. I would love to have feedback from teachers and their students. I think with all of us caught in the maelstrom, we may actually be able to work together to determine the benefits (or detriments) of SB 328. While I deny all culpability in the passage of this bill (I wrote letters to both governors telling them this was a bad idea!), I still believe we can teach our students about their civic voices and how to use them. This is exactly what ERWC is all about.
Lori Campbell is the English department chair for Kern High School District’s Kern Learn Program. This is a complete distance learning program that provides students the option to take their A-G required courses online. She has taught ERWC both face-to-face and through distance learning for 10 years. She holds her master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction.