Time to think about start times

In August, Emily Richmond began a story in The Atlantic magazine thusly: "For the first time, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging education policymakers to start middle- and high-school classes later in the morning. The idea is to improve the odds of adolescents getting sufficient sleep so they can thrive both physically and academically.

"The CDC’s recommendations come a year after the American Academy of Pediatrics urged schools to adjust start times so more kids would get the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of nightly rest. Both the CDC and the pediatricians’ group cited significant risks that come with lack of sleep, including higher rates of obesity and depression and motor-vehicle accidents among teens as well as an overall lower quality of life."

The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics are not alone. The idea that kids, especially teenagers, are not getting enough sleep is nothing new. Later start times have been kicked around for years, but few school districts have adopted them.

This year, the Seattle School District adopted later start times: 8:45 a.m. for high school and most of its middle schools. Columbia, Mo., moved the starting time for its four high schools from 7:45 a.m. to between 8:55 and 9:10 a.m. a few years ago and is trumpeting its success. And the idea has some legs in Hollis, where three students asked the Cooperative School Board to push the start time to 9 a.m. The board has formed a committee to look into it.

That’s a good start, one that comes seven years after districts in Mont Vernon and Amherst shot down the concept because it needed the agreement of all three of the districts – Mont Vernon, Amherst and the two towns’ combined Souhegan – and it didn’t work out. They should look at it once more.

Research indicates that kids just don’t get enough sleep and that adolescents’ overall well-being and academic performance improves when school start times are delayed. According to an article by Mareesa Nicosia on the education website The 74, the Columbia, Mo., school district has found:

"Our kids seem to be more awake and more eager to learn," said Battle High School Principal Kim Presko, who often observed lethargic freshman students in 8 a.m. first-period classes. "And they still make it to sports and extracurricular activities despite occasional scheduling conflicts.

"Schools Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said the number of annual out-ofschool suspensions has dropped by nearly 1,000 since 2012, and graduation rates have climbed from 82.7 to 90.2 percent," Nicosia wrote.

No one can truly attribute the drop in suspensions to the later start times, but no one can say that time hasn’t made the difference.

Teenagers habitually stay up late. It’s their wake/sleep rhythm; they can’t help it. And then they have to get up as early as 6 a.m. to catch the school bus. It can’t possibly be good for them, good for their schools or good for their futures, and their futures are our future.

Once Hollis has completed its study, we should know more, but it seems that we already know enough. When the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics weigh in on an issue like this, every school district should take notice.

We know there will be issues, including teacher contracts, but teachers, too, might like a later start time. Let’s hear from them very soon.