School Start Time Study Begins

Do students need a later start to the school day?


Tahreem Faruque, Staff Writer

Strath Haven faces a huge change: a later start time to the school day. The district home page features a message from the superintendent, Dr. Lisa A. Palmer, titled “WSSD Sleep & School Start Times.” The administration is beginning a study into adolescent sleep needs and school start times which will help make the best decision for Strath Haven. During the 2019-2020 year, a task force will be available to address issues, questions, and concerns brought up in meetings throughout the process. By February 2020, the task force plans to issue a recommendation regarding start times.

Dr. Wendy Troxel came to Strath Haven on Wednesday, September 11 to address the school’s concerns with the possibility of new start times. In her presentation, she discussed key points about why teens need more sleep than what they are getting now and how that affects the body. Sleep is critical for teenagers. Adults need to get 7-9 hours while teens need 8-10 hours to stay in a healthy range. Only about 1 in 10 teenagers get the recommended amount of time. Sleep deprivation impacts important functions of the brain. The prefrontal area of the brain assists with reasoning, good judgement, and problem solving. The amygdala regulates emotions, impulses, and risky behavior. Sleep loss causes these areas to not function properly, and negatively impacts students school activity such as poorer grades and impared memory. When the student gets more sleep and feels refreshed, he or she can retain more information which brings grades up and improves memory. Outside of the classroom, athletes are more prone to increased injury and slower recovery. Teens can go to bed earlier but biologically the mind does not not agree. Melatonin is released around 11 pm, two hours later than adults.

For teens, waking up at 6 am is equivalent to adults being up at 4 am. The biological delay makes going to bed early more difficult, combined with other factors such as homework. Some school districts have already implemented a later start time. Research shows that in these schools teens are sleeping more, are less tardy, have better standardized test scores, and get into fewer car accidents.

By the time this issue of the Panther Press comes out, students, parents, and staff members will have heard from Dr. Wendy Troxel, a Sleep Researcher and Clinician speaking in the high school auditorium on Wednesday, September 11, during the school day and at 7 p.m. Many voices will be heard by the committee, but this momentous change will greatly affect students the most.

Here are five opinions from current students:

Question: Do students need a later start to the school day?

YES- Jaydyn Thurmond, junior

From personal experience and research, your body automatically feels better from waking up later. For example, if I went to bed at 12 am and woke up at 6 am, I am more tired than if I were to get up at 8 am. Classes will start later too. Some of my friends got their schedule changed because they had a core class first block and felt that it would be too early in the morning for them to be productive. It’s also easier to wake up when there is daylight because that signals your brain to begin its daytime functioning. I also prefer to wake up later despite whatever time I go to bed. I always feel like I’ve slept better.

MAYBE- Trinity Clow-McLaughlin, junior

I’m really conflicted about the start time. On one hand, I would love to be able to sleep in later because we get up really early for school right now. On the other hand, if school starts later that means it ends later so everything is pushed back including after school activities, sports, etc. The issue with that is we have less time at night to do homework which could mean staying up later to get it done. I think it comes down to how much time they push back the start time and if the school can find a healthy balance. Pushing the start time by 30-45 minutes wouldn’t really create too much of a difference but more than that might. I’m not sure how I feel yet.

NO- Maeve Davis, junior

It feels like it is going to do more harm than good. First off, when we are adults, we are going to have to wake up at around the same time we do now for work. Why delay having to do it when we can get used to doing it now? Also, with the sports and theater program, no one will want to be at school past 5 pm if we need to start everything later as well. If they get out late, parents will also have to change their own schedules to accommodate. Let’s not forget about people who have jobs after school. No one with an after school job will want to get out past 3:30 pm and have little time to rest before doing what they need to do. If I were to have a shift in which I needed to be there at 4, I would have 30 minutes to get home, dressed, and then go to work. I’d probably end up passing out after work.

Alex Melly, senior

I feel like it’s a good idea and there is science to back it up but at the same time it doesn’t really affect us because we are no longer going to be here next year. I mean, I have a sibling who will be a freshman so it affects her. It’s cool that we have an input but I guess we are pretty impartial because it doesn’t affect us. Other than that I feel like it should be left up to the people who will be more directly affected. I would say especially in the winter, getting up when it’s completely dark and then coming home when it is dark is so depressing.

Haley Wuenschel, senior

I think it’s definitely a good idea. I mean, even if say, people did go to bed a little bit later, it shouldn’t matter. I would think probably on average I get seven to eight hours which is okay but it’s definitely not as good as it should be. If I were to wake up at 7:30 am or 8:00 am instead of 6:30 to 7:00 am, even just a little bit would be easier to wake up when the sun is actually up. Maybe even 30 minutes later would make a difference.

Mrs. Lawson, Psychology Teacher

I have been discussing this research for the last twenty years. It’s not new information. We have known for awhile that the teenage brain works very differently from the adult brain. I think two things are happening. Brain research is more advanced and able to uncover many more mysteries and people are now paying attention to teen brains. We know so much more about just how different the teenage brain actually is in terms of development of the frontal lobe, the different affect certain neurotransmitters have for teens, and also the delicate balance of hormone release. So I’m not surprised that we are having this discussion as a nation. I’m just surprised it’s taken this long. As a teacher and also a community member with children in the district, I certainly have an opinion on the topic. For me personally, I don’t think it will change much about my day. But it could have drastic changes for our high school schedule and I hope those are carefully considered. Haven is a great place and we need to make sure it stays that way no matter what time the first bell rings.