School start times still earlier than recommended

School start times still earlier than recommended


School start times still earlier than recommended


Studies shows school start time can be harmful to students

During your first period class, if you’re even awake yourself, look around.  Count the number of heads down, or even worse, listen to what’s going on (or what‘s not going on).  This sleep epidemic is ongoing and gets worse every day.  Due to the limited amount of sleep students get, most teachers agree that lack of sleep leads to poor academic performance.

The controversy has been looked at many times over the past few years about what time school should start.  The recommended amount of sleep for teenagers is 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep each night. That being said, sources like American Academy of Pediatrics say that school should start no earlier than 8:30, but what’s stopping Shaler?

One of the biggest reasons our school starts at 7:18 is because of the bus systems.  Our buses run on a loop-type schedule where they drop off the high school students, then head out and pick up the middle school students, and then elementary school students.

“The default was to pick up high school students first.  They’re the oldest; they can stand out in the dark a little more safely,” Principal Dr. Timothy Royall said.

However, this would have the high school students waking up between 5:30-6:30 in the morning with most high school students attempting to go to bed around 11.

Adults blame Twitter, Instagram, and other social media for keeping teenagers awake at night.  However, that is not completely true.  Research shows that as children become teenagers, their internal clocks shift.  The sleep cycle gets pushed back two hours making it difficult for teenagers to fall asleep before 10:30.  Therefore, teens may feel wide awake at bedtime even when they are exhausted.

“People think it’s cultural, that kids just want to stay up, but it’s actually biological,” Peter Franzen, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said in an article for the National Sleep Foundation.

First period teachers witness first-hand how difficult it is for students to stay awake.

“First period is definitely sleepy while ninth period is really outgoing and participates a ton,” Mrs. Neumann, a history teacher with a first period class, said.

Many decades of research has shown that insufficient sleep is injurious, hurting academic performance, and increasing teenagers’ risk of depression.  Sleep deprivation also increases rates of absenteeism, tardiness, substance use, and car accidents.

“The consequences of our current system are much worse than having a few sleepy kids in first period.  Sleep deprivation has lots of negative impacts, including on cognitive function.  This means that our brains work less effectively when we’re sleep-deprived,” Ms. Domencic, a first period English teacher, said.

The National Sleep Foundation points out that teens are already prone to sleep deficiency due to factors such as being responsible for higher academics, along with after-school jobs and extracurricular activities.

“Sleep isn’t a priority for teenagers, and it typically isn’t made one by parents or schools,” Jodi Mindell, PhD Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said on the National Sleep Foundation’s website.

Gateway School District is one school district in the surrounding area that is questioning its school start time. First revealed on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Superintendent Nina Zetty and other school administrators are considering later start times as part of the school’s initiative to “educate the whole child.” District officials will take this year to study how the current start times impact education and to see if this would be a logical change.

There is also a school in California, the Menlo-Atherton school district, that has partnered with Stanford University to create the Menlo-Atherton Teen Sleep Program.  Along with creating a district-wide policy that all four high schools in the district start school no earlier than 8:30 a.m, they also have the upper-level high school and college students with students from Dr. William Dement (a Stanford professor)  “Sleep and Dreams” class co-present information on sleep, particularly teen-related issues, to the freshmen class.

However, most schools stay on par with Shaler and keep an earlier start time.  In fact, North Hills has just moved their start time from 7:40 a.m. to 7:20 a.m. and the students will be dismissed at 2 p.m. instead of 2:45.  The proposed plan will save between $278,580 and $464,300 for taxpayers along with having fewer absences due to sporting events during 9th period.

But is this really the best choice?  Yes, there is money saved but is that money worth sacrificing the heath and well being of the students?  Is there a better option?

“It’s hard to argue with the science.  On the other side are some practical concerns about bussing, but those pale in comparison to impairing our students’ cognitive function.  We spend so much time and effort and money on finding ways to teach as effectively as we can.  If this one change could improve students’ ability to learn, why wouldn’t we do it?” Domencic said.


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