Johnson’s late start a hit with some, others still moan

Not a yellow bus in sight, students began rolling into Johnson High School around 8 a.m. on a recent Tuesday.

The sun was out, and teens were walking, talking, and yawning as they approach the sprawling school building.

Last year by 8 a.m. they would have been missing half of first period, but this year they're a half hour early. That's because Johnson is St. Paul Public School's test run for a later start time for the district's high schools.

To avoid overburdening the district's busing system, the Johnson students get Metro Transit passes, which allow them to catch a city bus to school.

Metro Transit has increased the number of buses serving the areas of the East Side where Johnson High School students live. City buses cruise past the school about every five minutes, most of them stopping at the nearby intersection of Payne and Maryland avenues.

"It's going really well," reports principal Micheal Thompson.

Though high-schoolers will be high-schoolers, prone to staying up late and sleeping in, when they miss the bus, they can simply catch another later on, Thompson notes. That way, they can miss first hour without missing the whole day.

Thompson says that as of yet, there have been no formal complaints or issues filed about the redesigned transportation system.

The school has doled out 1,100 Metro Transit cards, which covers most of the school's 1,350 students.

Eighty students opted out, while 38 are not eligible because they live so close to the school.

Danny Banegas, a junior hockey player, says he likes taking public transportation to school — even though for him it takes longer than last year's yellow bus route. Banegas likes that he can miss a bus and still make it to school (even if he misses part of his first class).

Before, if he missed the bus, he was out of luck, and missed the whole day of school. He did, however, bemoan that the later start will push his hockey practices back, and thus he'll get home after dark during the hockey season.

Fewer sleepy learners

Lillian Hart, a math instructor, said her first-period algebra class is a big improvement from last year.

"They're way more awake," she says. She figures that her first-hour class last year averaged only 10 students, now that's doubled to about 20. And some of those who showed up were often found sleeping through first-hour math.

This year, she's had almost no sleepers, she says.

"They're just on their phones instead," she jokes, referring to the fact that the kids were doing an interactive classroom activity using their smartphones.

Some funny new dynamics have emerged from the later start, Thompson says. For instance, with the later start time, now the teachers complain about rush-hour traffic. They used to be on the roads before most daytime workers, but now they can get mired in commuter traffic, Thompson says. The principal himself, however, still rides his bike most days, thus dodging the clogged freeways.

The timing is also a challenge for sports teams, Thompson notes, because no other school in the St. Paul district ends as late as Johnson, and so it's tough to coordinate game schedules. That will change, Thompson posits, once more schools begin to adopt later start times. But until then, student-athletes sometimes have to leave their final hour early to make it to a game on time.

St. Paul Public Schools is in discussions about having a later start time district wide for high schools, and the University of Minnesota is also doing surveys of students to measure how well it's working.

Thompson adds that if Johnson students have complaints, they're not going through official channels — there have been no major issues reported about bus safety, something he supposes could be because the city bus is a more public realm than a yellow school bus.

Metro Transit buses keep kids behaving as if they were in public, rather than in the yellow buses' bubble of school social dynamics, he says.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.


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