When I published my first column on the benefits of later start times for High School students, I ended with the sentence : “Maybe it is not too much to hope that we will change the start time for GHS for the full year.”
Well, the time has come to make this move for the benefit of all our teenagers. The outpouring of support in Greenwich for making this move has come from all sectors of our community. The common theme has been: “Let’s do it now and do it for the full year!”
“A later start to the school day could help teenagers get the most from their classroom time and local districts should consider delaying the first bell”, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. “So often, we design school systems that work for adults and not for kids,” Duncan told NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show.”
He pointed to research that backs up his comments that rested students are ready students . “Teen brains have a different biology,” said Kyla Wahlstrom, director at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Education Improvement. For the last 17 years, Wahlstrom has studied teenagers’ sleep cycles, brains and learning. She has concluded that schools that want ready students must have students arrive rested. Absenteeism, tardiness, depression, obesity, drop-out rates and even auto accidents all decline when students head to school after a good night of sleep.
“Teens have a different body clock,” said Terra Ziporyn Snider, the co-founder of Start School Later, a grassroots advocacy group that has pushed schools for delayed bells. “You don’t run schools at a time when kids aren’t ready to learn.” Research backs up Duncan’s worries about student sleep patterns and academic achievement.
“Children who sleep poorly are doing more poorly on academic performance,” said Joseph Buckhalt, a distinguished professor at Auburn University’s College of Education. He has been tracking sleeping patterns of 250 children as well as their IQ tests, performance on standardized tests, their grades and behavior. His findings suggest sleep is just as important to student achievement as diet and exercise.
“All the data that we’ve seen on sleep shows that children, especially teenagers, are sleeping less,” he said. “If you don’t sleep well, you don’t think very well.”
Part of the lack of sleep is biological as teenagers go through puberty, Buckhalt said. For students from less affluent families, the effects can be compounded, Buckhalt found.
“Fifty years ago we learned that hungry kids don’t do well in school. Now we know that sleepy children don’t do well in school,” Buckhalt said. “Now we have to do something about it.” “If any issue cries for local decision making, this is one,” said Patte Barth, director for the Center for Public Education at the National School Boards Association.
The professional organization has not taken a position on the ideal time to start schools, but Barth said Duncan is correct. “Teenagers are much more alert later in the day rather than earlier,” she said.
In schools where the day starts later, there have been immediate gains, she said.
“Some districts have made these adjustments to the school day and they have found among their teenagers that attendance is better, kids aren’t falling asleep,” she said. Many districts have made the switch work with few disruptions. Others are paralyzed by fear of increased costs. “It’s not about costs. It’s about fear of change and failure of imagination,” Snider said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later.
The Greenwich School Administration’s report on Changing Start Times will be presented at the March 5 meeting at the Havemeyer Building.
Peter von Braun, Phd is a member of the Greenwich Board of Education and can be contacted at email@example.com