by Magdalena Johnston
“Keep your head up!” This is a phrase I know every person who went through public schooling has heard many times in their lives. Throughout public schooling, students are forever being forced to wake up earlier and earlier as they further their education. Students are starting anywhere between eight and nine in the morning in elementary school, but by the time they are in high school, they are getting to school by seven. I can’t help but question, is this the most efficient way for students to learn? I believe it is not and that high school should start later in the day, because an early start time causes teens to be sleep-deprived, encourages unhealthy lifestyles, interferes with optimal learning, and decreases safety outside of school.
When people reach adolescence, studies show that they actually need more than eight hours of sleep and require an optimum of nine and a half hours if possible (Gordon A4.). Another thing that many people do not know is that when people reach adolescence their time clocks, or “circadian rhythms”, change from when they were children, shifting into a delayed phase where they are basically programmed to stay up later and wake up later (Johnson 4D). High school students have many activities consuming hours of their day. An example of this is an average high school athlete’s day, which looks like this: wake up at 6:00 to take a shower and get ready; get to school by 7:15; school starts at 7:25 and get out at 2:25. They then have five minutes to change for practice, which will run from 2:30 to 4:30. After that, they have to eat and make it to work by 6:00 where they are scheduled until 9:30. Then get home by 10:00 and relax and do homework, which will put you to bed at about 1:00. Then do it all over again. Because of students’ demanding schedules, along with their time clocks being in constant jet lag, many students end up sleep-deprived, with an average of only 8% of students actually getting the recommended amount of sleep per night (Duval). Due to sleep deficiency and the fact that students are waking up at a time their bodies are telling them is the middle of the night, students have a harder time concentrating in class and retaining the information that is presented to them (Duval).
As if the argument of depriving our youth of sleep weren’t enough, early start times are also doing damage to students’ lifestyles and encouraging unhealthy habits. Because young people are not getting enough sleep obesity rates are going up, which is believed to be caused by disrupting hormones that regulate appetites (Stein). The hormones that are affected by this lack of sleep are leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is produced in fat cells and sends the signals to your brain that you are full. Ghrelin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract and is what stimulates your appetite. When you are sleep-deprived studies show that your ghrelin levels go up, increasing the appetite, while leptin levels decrease, so you never feel that you are full. This then causes you to constantly be hungry and yet never feel that you have eaten enough, which over an extended period of time causes weight gain (Bouchez).
Along with depriving students of a healthy lifestyle by making them get to school so early, early start times cause students to learn and perform at a lower level. If the start was pushed back even to 8:30, performance levels would go up (“School Start”). Studies back this up by proving that when school was started just half an hour later students began going to bed earlier and getting up to 45 extra minutes of sleep, which increased their performance in school significantly. This was shown to be true in a trial experiment that included 201 students and was performed by St. George’s School in Newport, Rhode Island. In the trial students’ start time was pushed from 8:00 am to 8:30 am. Although this delay may seem small, the trial results concluded that students reported getting more sleep and surprisingly students even began going to bed earlier, which is what caused them to be able to get the extra 45 minutes of sleep mentioned above (O’Callaghan).
Another consistently overlooked reason for starting school later in the day is that if we start school later, school will get out later. School getting out later would be beneficial for safety reasons. When teens get out of school, they have a time gap when they are completely unsupervised as they wait for their parents to arrive back home. Studies have shown that this is the time during which crime rates are the highest (Gordon A4). This is when students have a chance to get involved in gang activities, drugs and crime.
However, there is always the opposing argument that the school start time should remain the same. The leading argument is actually a very basic one, but it is still one that is very hard to get around: tradition. The time set for when students at different grade levels get up for school has been set in stone for years now; it is very hard for people to wrap their minds around breaking this tradition, even if it is for the benefit of our students (Moore). It is completely absurd though that anyone would argue that we should stick to a routine that is ineffective for our students just because it is “what we are used to.” That is a selfish and closed-minded argument that should not be supported by the older generation. Since the start times of schools do not affect the old generation, their opinion should be invalid and the younger generation that is actually affected by such things should have a greater say in the matter.
Similarly, there is the argument about after-school extracurricular activities, specifically athletics. If school starts later, after-school activities would also start later, which would be inconvenient for many athletes and coaches, because of how much later it would keep them (Moore). However studies have shown that with an increased amount of rest there is a decreased amount of injuries to student athletes (Rose). Therefore, technically, a later start time would be beneficial to the overall performance of high school athletes even if it would be an inconvenience to stay later after school than they already do. Furthermore, if we do chose to keep school start times earlier just for the sake of athletes, this will increase the stereotype that we put everything aside for our high school athletes and treat them like some form of royalty, which is sickening; why should the wants of athletes overpower the greater good of the student body? This is a selfish argument. It’s the same as saying one student can’t make it to the final exam date, so the teacher switches everything around for one student, even though it will make things harder on the rest of the class.
After reviewing all of the facts, I can say I believe one hundred percent that high school start times should be later. It would improve the students’ learning abilities in class, help them maintain a healthier lifestyle, make things safer after school hours, and ensure that the students are more likely to get the proper amount of sleep. The opposing arguments of not wanting to stay later after school for extracurricular activities and being too stubborn to change tradition are weak and non factual. As education writer Lynn Moore observes, “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten.” This quotation is something we should keep in mind if we ever want to better high school learning for the youth of our country.
Take for example the Columbia, Missouri school district. After an e-mail interview with Tom Rose, a member of the Columbia School Board, I learned that they have recently come up with a plan that allows high school students to learn at their optimum level by starting school later, while still giving students the option to start earlier in the day if they so choose. The inspiration for this change began being examined a year ago since the district was already about to undergo some drastic new changes, such as opening a new high school and changing grade configurations. However, although talk of later start times began a year ago, the idea is much older. This idea goes back at least a decade before it was finally taken seriously in community meetings. The following evaluations on the drastic change took about nine months.
After talking with Tom I found out that many of the same arguments I made above were even brought up in the Columbia School Board’s meetings. Topics such as how high school students have an “increased alertness” at the beginning of the day, and even that when school start times are later students do not use this as an opportunity to stay up later. Instead, they continue to go to bed at an average of 11 PM, meaning that they do get an overall increased amount of rest, resulting in increased student achievement. Another key argument that was made, at the meetings, was that since students will have less free time during the early afternoon, they will have less of a chance to get involved in activities that would get them into trouble.
For all the supporting reasons made to change the school start times to be later, there were still of course opposing arguments, some of which I discussed earlier. A prominent example is how the later start times will effect extracurricular activities and practice times, meaning that students will have less time to do homework when they get home. Tom observes that all this means is that coaches, leaders of activities, and administrators will have to work more closely together on scheduling and making the most efficient use of time, possibly even adjusting practices. Another conflict that I had not thought about or mentioned, is the worry that some students might miss class time at the end of the day due to events for band, sports, etc. Another very important argument is that this particular district will now need to start the elementary schools particularly early, 7:40 AM to be exact, which is a huge concern for parents. The parents argue that they do not want their children having to wake up so early and wait out in the dark for their bus.
With all the pros and cons to the drastic new change, board member Tom Rose truly believes that, as research shows, “we will have higher achieving students across the board.” He states that our education system is falling behind compared to the rest of the world, and I agree with him one hundred percent. He hopes and believes that more districts will move to their own version of this approach as they see how effective and successful the later start times can be in making a positive and rewarding impact on the students.
The standard start time will now be 9:00 AM and school will run until 4:05 PM, according to a newspaper article written by Caitlian Holland and Caroline Bauman for the Columbia Missourian. If students choose to take the “zero” hour offered, which would start before regular school hours, they may then be allowed to leave the campus at 12:30 PM to attend a class at the University of Missouri. The only opposition the school board found with making this dramatic change was the issue of transportation for the students. With some creative thinking and determination, however, a solution was found by the school board, working with city transportation to make a bus stop at the high school. This new bus route will go into effect starting in April, and the new start times will go into effect at the start of the 2013-2014 school year (Bauman and Holland).
Tom informed me that the Columbia School District is one of the first, if not the first, to make this big change, although there are most likely at least a few other districts across the country that have made their own version of this change. Things are changing, and this is a great way to give students the opportunity to get the most they can out of their high school experience. Help make a change by contacting your school board today. Urge them to consider a later start time for your high school students. Take part in committee meetings, and raise all the important reasons why our students need this change. Your dedication to the students in your area can make a difference; all you need to do is speak up.
Bauman, Caroline and Caitlian Holland. “Columbia School Board Votes in Favor of Three-Tier Transportation Plan.” Columbia Missourian. Columbia Missourian, 11 Mar. 2013. Web. 5 Apr. 2013. <https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=gmail&attid=0.1&thid=13dd0dc71bd3f037&mt=application/pdf&url=https://mail.google.com/mail/?ui%3D2%26ik%3D4bb349febc%26view%3Datt%26th%3D13dd0dc71bd3f037%26attid%3D0.1%26disp%3Dsafe%26realattid%3Df_hf2qyflb0%26zw&sig=AHIEtbTtsPX9csONCaCkOELga5MUwPh7fA>.
Bouchez, Colette. “The Dream Diet: Losing Weight While You Sleep.” Web MD. 7 Jan. 2012. Web. 9 Dec. 2012. <http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/lose-weight-while-sleeping>.
Duval, Sylviane. “Most High School Students Are Sleep Deprived.” Center for Advancing Health. Health Behavior New Service, 5 Jan. 2010. Web. 6 Dec. 2012. <http://www.cfah.org/hbns/2010/most-high-school-students-are-sleep-deprived#.UWdEpsXDn0c>.
Gordon, Jo. “Let Sleeping Teens Lie.” The Fairfax Journal 15 Feb. 1998: A4. Print.
Johnson, Kevin V. “Teen-agers Are Wired to Stay Up, Wake Later.” USA Today 24 June 1998: 4D. Print.
Moore, Lynn. “Why Do High School Kids Go to School So Early? Because That’s the Way It’s Always Been.” Michigan. Michigan, 14 Dec. 2011. Web. 6 Dec. 2012. <http://www.mlive.com/news/muskegon/index.ssf/2011/12/why_do_high_school_kids_go_to.html>.
O’Callaghan, Tiffany. “Study: Teens Benefit from Later School Start.” Time. Time, 6 July 2010. Web. 6 Dec. 2012. <http://healthland.time.com/2010/07/06/study-teens-benefit-from-later-school-start/>.
Rose, Tom. “Later School Start Times for Columbia High Schools.” Message to the author. 8 Apr. 2013. E-mail.
“School Start Time and Sleep.” National Sleep Foundation. National Sleep Foundation, 28 Nov. 2011. Web. 6 Dec. 2012. <http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/school-start-time-and-sleep>.
Stein, Rob. “Scientists Find Out What Losing Sleep Does to a Body.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 9 Oct. 2005. Web. 6 Dec. 2012.<http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/08/AR2005100801405.html>.