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School Starting Later: Reasons for This Proposal

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If someone asked you if you wanted to change the way teenagers viewed getting up and going to school everyday from negative to positive would you say yes? Early morning school start times are a major determining factor of a teenager’s mood day to day. High School start times should be pushed back later in order to decrease student sleep deprivation and increase performance in the classroom.

Sleep deprivation makes young people more susceptible to illness, skin problems, and mental health issues, including depression and aggression. Teenagers with poor sleep habits are more likely to develop unhealthy habits, such as excessive consumption of caffeine, nicotine, unhealthy foods, and alcohol. (‘School Start Times.’)

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Sleep deprivation also impairs driving, increasing the likelihood that a driver will fall asleep at the wheel or become distracted. (‘School Start Times.’) Receiving six or fewer hours of sleep during weekend nights correlated to a greater risk of late-night accidents and roadway departure crashes, which involve the vehicle leaving its designated lane or road and hitting another object or overturning. (‘School Start Times.’)

Sleep recommendations range from 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep daily. (‘School Start Times.’) The APA notes that students who receive the recommended amount of sleep have improved memory, less difficulty paying attention, better control over their emotions, and an easier time staying awake during class than their sleep-deprived peers. (‘School Start Times.’) Democratic state senator Anthony J. Portantino, told The New York Times that forcing teens to get out of bed so early is ‘the biological equivalent of waking you or me up at 3:30 a.m. Imagine how you would feel if, 187 days a year, you had to get up at 3:30 a.m. You’d be miserable, you’d be depressed—you’d act like a teenager.’ (Polochanin)

The biological changes that teenagers experience as their brains and bodies develop during adolescence make the issue of when school begins especially important for middle and high school students. Thirteen to eighteen year olds require 8 to 10 hours of sleep daily, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (Polochanin) Circadian rhythms during puberty force teens to go to bed later and sleep later in the morning. (Polochanin) According to a 2018 survey conducted by the GENYouth Foundation, 66 percent of middle school students and 74 percent of high school students identified as sleep deprived. (‘School Start Times.’) Almost half of those students blamed their lack of sleep on their long list of responsibilities, including homework, and pressure from parents. (‘School Start Times.’)

According to the American Academy of Pediatricians, adolescents who do not get the required amount of sleep are at risk for a host of serious physical problems. Including obesity and diabetes, safety concerns, including drowsy driving, issues related to mental health, including increased anxiety, depression, and decreased motivation. Other problems such as decrease in school performance, such as cognitive impairment, problems with attention and memory, lower academic achievement, poor attendance, and higher dropout rate are seen often in students that don’t get enough sleep. (Polochanin) The majority of school districts do not uphold the recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics to hold off beginning middle and high school until 8:30 a.m. (Polochanin) Some districts chose to go the route of modest changes, such as moving from 7:30 to 7:50 a.m. Others thought that an incremental approach was less upsetting, and thus considered shifting from 7:25 to 7:45 a.m. in the first year, and then from 7:45 to 8:10 a.m. in the second year.

As more findings emerged from research that added to the knowledge of positive outcomes, schools began discussing later start times. Sometimes the early discussions caused the school board to splinter because it was becoming a highly politically charged decision. Indeed, a few superintendents actually resigned their posts when the acrimony surrounding the start time decision became overwhelming. (Rosenburg)

There are a mix of factors stopping the change, ranging from a shift in family schedules, potential budget adjustments to accommodate more buses, challenges with after-school sports and activities, and the idea of having students complete their homework later in the evening and night than they already do. There are the complications in interscholastic athletics schedules and parents who want their high schoolers home early to look after younger siblings. Individual transportation costs per student would increase significantly if later school start times were adopted. It cost one district about $250,000 to launch the schedule change initially, mostly to add buses and drivers and to revamp bus routes. (Rosenberg) But the main issue, experts studying the change agree, is pretty simple. Schools and their communities have been so accustomed to the current schedule that many are resistant to change. (Polochanin)

Changes that occur during adolescence make teenagers fall asleep later at night than other age groups. Delaying the start of the school day provides them with more opportunity to get enough sleep. Students whose high schools changed their schedules to start at 8:30 a.m. or later improved their performance in English, math, science, social studies, and standardized tests.(Polochanin) If school superintendents and boards of education were to examine the research behind school start times, it is impossible to disagree.

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