Same Time: Freshmen Pair Push Against Later BHS Start


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’ 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. 

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.

Starting High School Later Measure At School Committee Tuesday

Photo: More zzzzzzzs for high schoolers.

The group pushing for a later starting time for Belmont High School students will present a petition and a formal request to the School Committee at its meeting Tuesday, Feb. 7 to begin steps that will result in high schoolers getting more sleep.

Start School Later Belmont will ask the committee to establish a task force to explore what needs to be developed to allow Belmont High School to begin the school day at a later time, said Jess Hausman, the new chair of the organization.

Currently, Belmont High School’s opens at 7:35 a.m. with classes dismissed at 2:25 p.m.

“We’re asking the School Committee to explore the issue in depth,” said Hausman in an email to the Belmontonian, concluding with the task force resolving how much later can high school students begin their day. 

“On Feb. 28 (hopefully) the [committee] will meet again and vote on this resolution to determine whether they will or will not form this task force,” she said. SSL Belmont believes it will take up to a year to develop a plan that will work for the committee and a formal vote can be held with implementation occurring in the fall of 2018.

Hausman said the reaction to the group’s proposal across different segments of the Belmont community has been overwhelmingly positive. SSL Belmont released the on-line petition to the public on Jan. 30, and by Feb. 5, it reached 288 signatures. 

“We are seeking up to 500 by the time the [committee] vote comes up for the task force resolution which will occur Feb 28, hopefully,” said Hausman. 

The science behind a later starting time for high school students is growing, according to School Committee member Andrea Prestwich, who started SSL in Belmont and campaigning in part on its passage.

“It’s a nationwide problem,” said Prestwich in November 2015, noting that sleep-deprived teens are more depressed, more likely to suffer from diabetes; their immune systems are compromised, can not accept normal levels of stress, impacting academics and are more suspectable to sports injuries.