British Columbia·Matheson

Class is in session, students are not: Making it on time to Matheson secondary

Tardy teenagers is a tale as old at time, but at L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey, getting students seated punctually is a constant battle and has at least one teacher questioning if it's one worth fighting.

'The extent of the problem at L.A. Matheson goes well beyond those rare instances'

Students attend L.A. Matheson Secondary School on May 9. (Evan Mitsui)

There are three morning bells at L.A. Matheson Secondary School, but after the final one rings to mark the start of class there are usually hordes of students still in the hallway — and often some still being dropped outside by their parents.

Classes at the Surrey high school start at 8:30 a.m., but it is not unusual to have stragglers showing up 10, 15 or even 20 minutes late.

Getting kids to class on time can feel like a daily battle for some staff at Matheson, while at least one staff member questions if it's worth the fight.

But Vice-Principal Stefan Stipp takes tardiness seriously. CBC reporter Jason D'Souza met with Stipp one morning to see what he's up against.

Stipp pointed out at least 40 kids still milling about in the halls after the last bell rang, and then showed D'Souza the scene in the parking lot, where several parents were still dropping off their teens.

It's not just the students who are in trouble.

Vice-Principal Stefan Stipp takes tardiness seriously. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Stipp hands each parent who pulls up late a written notice acknowledging there are some unavoidable reasons for being late but that also says, "the extent of the problem at L.A. Matheson goes well beyond those rare instances." The note then asks parents for help getting their children to school on time.

The 'handshake bell'

Even if they make it into the building on time, there is a unique reason why many of Stipp's students struggle with being punctual.

Shaking hands with friends is a big part of the morning ritual for a lot of students at Matheson, which is why the second morning bell is known as the "handshake bell." 

It was implemented earlier this year because students were often late after greeting each other. The handshake bell now rings two minutes before the final bell.

Shaking hands with friends is a morning ritual for many L.A. Matheson students. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

"The handshake is showing respect to your friends," said student Francis Dak Opot.

"You get different handshakes with your bros," he said, noting that those might have a fist bump or finger snap thrown in.

Less close friends get "a regular handshake that you see every day," while close friends sometimes wrap it up with a hug. Either way, it slows down the commute to class.

Teacher Dana Miller has grown accustomed to students coming late to her science classes. When she asks what slowed them down, it's most often not because they were dropped off late or loitered in the halls, but because they are just plain tired.

Miller told D'Souza she thinks a later start time would benefit students, who sometimes try to catch up on sleep at their desks.

Teacher Dana Miller has grown accustomed to students coming late to her science classes. ((Evan Mitsui/CBC))

"To be honest, I think it's much too early for a lot of students," said Miller, who questioned if teachers should make a big deal when students come late.

"Are we going to reprimand? Or do we welcome them in and make them feel like it's still worthwhile to show up even if they're a bit late?" 

There has been research in recent years suggesting a later school start time would benefit teenagers. The administration at Matheson said that idea is not currently being considered. 

So for students it may just come down to going to bed earlier. Or getting a head start on their morning handshakes.

Classes at the Surrey high school start at 8:30 a.m., but it is not unusual to have stragglers showing up 15 minutes late. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)
The students at LA Matheson have a unique way of tackling tardiness. 8:43

This story is part of a series called Matheson, examining the lives of students at L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey, B.C. CBC journalist Jason D'Souza was given unparalleled access as he spent a month embedded at the high school in order to hear unfiltered stories of students today.

The Early Edition, Jason D'Souza