Opinion: Time Is Now For Sleep To Be A Priority For High School Students

Photo: Bedtime. 

(Editor: On Feb. 7, the Belmont School Committee heard a presentation from the chair of the Belmont Start School Later campaign, Jessica Olans Hausman, and from School Committee member Andrea Prestwich requesting a task force be formed to consider a later beginning of the school day for Belmont High School students. Hausman presented an opinion article [below] to the Belmontonian to inform the public of current and future activities of her group.) 

The science supporting later school start times for high school and middle school students is evident.  An adolescent’s optimal sleep cycle is at 11 p.m. and wake at 8 a.m. Just put a Fitbit on your teen and put them to bed at 9 p.m. They will toss and turn until 11 p.m. That means waking up at 6 a.m. rouses adolescents at the lowest point of alertness in their 24-hour sleep cycle. It is the equivalent of an adult waking up at 4 a.m. This is why the American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and American Medical Association recommend starting middle and high school no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

Teens are physically and mentally healthier and higher performing with a school start time of 8:30 a.m. or later.  They perform better academically in school and experience 68 percent lower injury rate athletically after school. Incidences of mood and eating disorders, at-risk behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse, and car accidents all decrease with later start times.  

Schools around the country, including Massachusetts, are making a move to later middle and high school start times with positive results.  

  • In fall 2016, Hanover High School changed its opening bell from 7:25 a.m. to 7:55 a.m. The school’s Assistant Principal Hugh Galligan has already reported “a 32 percent decrease in Ds and Fs in period one classes, and a 10 percent increase in As in period one classes this school year.”    
  • In 2012, Nauset High School changed to start school at 8:35 a.m with an immediate result of a 50 percent decrease in Ds and Fs.  These statistics have continued steadily at the school to date.
  • A Newton Start School Later working group has collected nearly 2,000 responses to its survey of six scenarios for starting their high schools as late as 9 a.m. According to the Boston Globe, the Newton School Committee is expected to vote this spring to implement later start times as early as the fall of 2017.
  • South Portland Middle School will move its start from 7:55 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and the high school will move its start from 7:30 a.m. to 8:10 a.m. in the 2017/2018 school year.
  • Boxford, Middleton, Mascomet and Topsfield formed a Start Times Advisory Committee in Spring 2016 that has already completed evaluations studying options for later middle and high school start times.

Much more examples of towns in the region can be found on the Start School Later Massachusetts Facebook page with additional updates available from the Start School Later Massachusetts newsletter.

What is happening in Belmont?  

Belmont may not be far behind these schools in moving to a later school start time.  In 2015, Middlesex League superintendents committed that, if their towns are going to change to later high school start times between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., they will change by Fall 2018. This will help to coordinate after-school sports schedules.  

Belmont School Committee is discussing starting a task force to explore starting school later for the 2018/2019 school year. Their preliminary discussion took place at the Feb. 7 school committee meeting at Chenery Middle School. They may vote on the question at the upcoming meeting on Feb. 28

Belmont residents are highly encouraged to attend this voting meeting at Chenery Middle School at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28.  At the start of the meeting, members of the community are welcome to voice concerns for up to two minutes each. If you wish to sign a petition in support of later school start times for Belmont middle and high schools you can respond here until the school committee vote on Feb. 28. Town task forces often take one year to explore different plans and logistics for starting school later.   

If the Belmont school committee votes to create this task force and follow the year timeline, they could vote in the winter of 2017-2018 on whether and how to start school later in Belmont.

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