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Monfredo: Should Secondary School Starting Time be Moved Up?

Saturday, September 22, 2018

 

One of the “hot” topics discussed year after year in Worcester by the Standing Committee on Teaching Learning and Student Support has been whether the starting time on the secondary level can or should be changed.

Sleep deprivation among teens has become a major public health issue across the nation for research has shown that not enough sleep puts teens physical and physiological health at risk.  According to studies lack of adequate sleep can result in memory impairment, poor academy performance and decision making, moodiness and aggression, anxiety, and even more car accidents.

Since the 1990s, sleep researchers and other health professionals have been telling us that these early school hours are harming children. It's not just the numbers of hours of sleep, but also the timing of sleep that is required for optimal health. Sleep deprivation's impacts include: weight gain and eating disorders and increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular problems, and diabetes; reduced immunity; depression; anxiety; substance abuse; mood swings; behavior problems; suicidal ideation; and potential impacts on brain development.

Again, from 2000 to 2018 more and more research gave the same results. In Worcester during the early 2000’s School Committee member Brian O’Connell brought psychologist and professor at the College of Holy Cross Dr. Amy Wolfson to a sub-committee meeting to discuss her findings about this topic.  Dr. Wolfson’s research found in a Worcester survey with more with than 3000 students that students getting low marks obtained about 25 minutes less sleep and went to bed 40 minutes later than students who reported they were getting A’s and B’s.

In summary, the data shows a positive relationship between starting time and academic performance. The evidence points out that adolescents need more sleep and the effects of sleep deprivation have had a negative effect on their learning capabilities.

The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2014 stated that there are multiple factors, "including biological changes in sleep associated with puberty, lifestyle choices, and academic demands, negatively impact teens' ability to get enough sleep, and pushing back school start times is key to helping them achieve optimal levels of sleep – 8½ to 9½ hours a night.”

 Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics also stated, “Chronic sleep loss in  adolescents "can, without hyperbole, really be called a public health crisis.”

In the past several years' many schools around the country have pushed back the school starting time such as the city of Seattle after receiving a great deal of community input.  In addition, more school districts around the U.S. are heeding the advice of scientists who have long said that expecting teens to show up to class early isn't good for their health or their report cards.

Hundreds of school communities across the USA - and beyond finally have found ways to make this happen by prioritizing health and learning. These districts looked at the science of what's best for the students and made the change accordingly. Many of these districts are seeing large and small benefits to physical and mental heath, learning, attendance, graduation rates, car crashes, and overall student well-being.

So based on all the research in the past twenty years why aren’t more districts not changing their starting time?  It’s the same reasons that were articulated at the standing committee meetings in our city … disruption in child care, for in many cases older children care for younger children when they get out of school or even before school, the challenge of coordinating interscholastic activities and sports with other districts, students with after-school jobs and the biggest reason is the financial aspect of what it would cost in transportation. Many of the high schools start their day at 7:20 a.m. Thus, in an attempt to save money on transportation can all the times within our district be moved up 30 minutes?  It’s something to think about and explore?

Once again we as a community need to make healthy policy decisions for all students.  Is it possible that these problems can be worked out? We know the benefits from the research but at the moment we are stuck in neutral.   Let’s look at the obstacles and see if they can be solved.   I’d like to see administration come up with some alternatives or at best start a pilot program at one high school and see how it works. Let’s examine our options and not just sweep the item under the rug or do what we have done for the last fourteen years – ignore the problem.

I encourage feedback from our readers, especially those who have children in our schools or have had their child graduate recently from high school… e-mail me at [email protected].  Community input is most important if we are to resolve this problem.  I look forward to your suggestions, pro or con, on this issue.

 

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