Same Time: Freshmen Pair Push Against Later BHS Start

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When Belmont High School freshmen Ella Serrano-Wu and Kate Devitt recently heard there was a growing chorus of students and parents singing the praises of starting the school day later in the day, the friends had one common thought.

“Oh no!”

While it may appear counterintuitive – especially to parents – that you would find any teenager willingly reject the option to lounge in bed for an extra hour on a school day, Serrano-Wu and Devitt are asking the Belmont School Committee not to screw up the current schedule they believe is working just fine, thank you.

“When it was brought to our attention that a later start time for [Belmont High School] was under consideration, as student-athletes we became very concerned,” said Serrano-Wu, who is a gymnast and honor roll student while Devitt is a runner and a class officer.

“We realized the consequences that a delayed start time would have on after-school sports and extracurriculars and decided to take action,” she and Devitt said. 

So the pair of ninth graders decided to do what any social media savvy kids would do: They mounted an online campaign against it. The students’ Change.org petition – Belmont Same Start Time (B.S.S.T.) – states there are “many dire consequences to delaying school start time.” Just under 100 people have signed up supporting the students’ cause.

For the pair and many other Belmont High students, a delayed start date will throw a shoe in the schedule have things to do and places to go during their busy day.

“Some other students were talking about the petition to delay the start of school, and we were surprised to learn that the [School Committee] had already discussed this issue,” they said.

“We decided to make sure people heard both sides of the argument. We haven’t discussed this with our teachers and administrators, but we certainly plan to reach out to them and hear their thoughts,” said Serrano-Wu.

The counter effort to a later starting day comes as a popular campaign called Belmont Start School Later will come before the School Committee for a possible vote to create a task force to begin the process of installing a delayed start in the school day at the high school.

The problem with the later start time includes the loss of free periods which students used to do their homework or just relax;  the new hours will disrupt existing drop-off times for parents and make it difficult for high school students to pick up siblings in elementary schools; and discourage students taking extracurricular as scheduling practice hours for sports, the arts and clubs will be even more competitive

Just as the supporters of a later start time has scientific evidence that shows benefits of a delayed start, the opponents have collected its own evidence.

“Yes, there is certainly a lot of evidence saying longer sleep is good for adolescents,” said Serrano-Wu. “However, there is equally valid data showing that the gains in delayed start time are not long-term.”

Serrano-Wu points to research that found after several months of the late opening school system; teenagers fell back into the same hours of sleep they had before and showed little to no change in GPA or mental health.

Serrano-Wu and Devitt said solving the problem of lack of student sleep should include a discussion on making ‘Homework Free Weekend’s actually homework free or capping the number of APs a student can take.

“Sleep is a zero sum game,” said Serrano-Wu.
 
“More research has to be done on any long-term benefits of a later start, and we have to be careful not to draw conclusions too quickly. In talking with friends and relatives in other school districts, we know there are other good ideas on how to reduce student stress,” she added. 
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