How Do 9-Hour School Days Affect Students?

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Photograph by Sophie Yanny Tiller.

by Priscila Rodriguez 

It’s hard to believe that there are teenagers who attend school longer than their parents attend work, but that’s the case at many schools across the country, including The Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts).

ChiArts students have to leave their house on time to make the first 8 a.m. bell, then rush out the door at 5 p.m. to make the bus, and relive that process every day until June when summer comes back around. 

Besides ChiArts, there’s at least one other school in Chicago that deals with these long, nine hour days: Hanna Sacks Bais Yaakov (HSBY), a Jewish private school located in West Ridge that, at the time of this publication, begins at 8 a.m. and ends around 5:30 p.m.

Students at both ChiArts as well as HSBY take care of themselves in a variety of ways. Many rely on only “coffee and lunch” to get through the day, while others have full breakfasts from the local Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks, while also packing a variety of snacks. 

“I don’t [eat breakfast],” said by ChiArts sophomore Musical Theater student Kara Menke. 

Other students said that they had to eat breakfast in order to survive the day.

“I have to,” said ChiArts sophomore Theater student Akilah Dixon.

Nevertheless, breakfast can be difficult to manage with a school day that requires students to get up so early in the morning.

Damian Silva, a junior in the dance conservatory at ChiArts, said he wakes up around 5 a.m. on a regular day, but there are times when he’s up around 4:30 a.m. too.  Other Dance students reported waking up between 5 and 6 a.m. in order to make it to school on time, roughly falling asleep around roughly 11 p.m. every night. 

“Sometimes I fall asleep between 2 and 4 a.m. after finishing school work and wake up around six thirty in order to get here on time,” said Jayden Nguyen, a senior creative writer at ChiArts who makes it home around 8 or 9 p.m. because they have extracurricular activities after school.

When asked about feeling drained, Nguyen added, “I consider school to be a stressful environment and, as a senior, it’s tough. I just want to go home and be done with the day. But I’ve gotten used to the 70-minute academic classes, so that’s what’s keeping me going.” 

Shiffy Smolensky, a junior at HSBY, said, “It is very draining. You don’t get a break between classes, you still get the regular amount of homework for all 11 to 12 classes; there are no ‘sub-days,’ you simply get assigned to go to another teacher. We also don’t have our phones which makes it hard to communicate with others.” 

As rough as these times may be, students often have their own forms of breaks. They take quick glances at their phones throughout the day, or take advantage of sleeping whenever possible, like during their commutes from place to place. Others are energized by their friends and peers.

This is the case for students at HSBY as Smolensky described their breaks that include a “10-minute recess” after their first three periods, and then their 40- to 45-minute lunch around midday. 

While these are only snippets of the daily 8 a.m. to 5p.m., these students are doing their best to make it through their high school years. Each routine is unique, but there is a drive to accomplish that runs through all students who choose this kind of rigor.

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