School board to review school start times

School board to review school start times
Posted on 04/06/2018
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The Anacortes School Board plans to review research and engage the community in a conversation about school start times. Any proposed change would be for the 2019-2020 school year.

Nationwide and across Washington state, a number of school districts are moving to later start times for their middle and high schools. The main reason, based on brain and sleep research, is the development of the teenage brain.

“The research around teen brain development and sleep patterns is compelling,” said superintendent Mark Wenzel. “We believe it warrants a conversation about school start times. At the same time, we know there are many logistical considerations with family schedules. Our intent is to be deliberate in reviewing the research and listening to students, staff and families.”

Extra sleep

Ask any middle or high school student what the best day of the school week is, and you might be surprised. While Friday is popular, Wednesday tops the chart. Late start Wednesdays, designed to give teachers collaborative planning time, have had an additional benefit for teenagers: an extra hour of sleep.

Sophomore Pierson Nordmark struggles every single morning to wake up. His first alarm goes off at 6 a.m., but he spends at least half an hour snoozing. 

“It’s so hard to wake up. My brain doesn’t even start working until after second period. And on Wednesdays, I use the entire extra hour to sleep. I definitely notice a difference when I get that extra hour of sleep,” he said. 

While the tiredness of teens is not a new concept, the reasons behind it have surfaced over the last decade. For years, brain research has shown that the teen brain develops differently. That research, combined with sleep cycle studies, prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2014 to recommend that middle and high schools start later to better align with teenage sleep patterns.

Sleep research

The teen sleep cycle is different from both child and adult cycles. Once a child hits adolescence – as early as age 10 – the biological sleep clock shifts one to two hours later. That internal clock prompts teens to stay awake when they should be falling asleep. Brain research shows that the release of melatonin is tied to sleepiness. 

During puberty, according to numerous sleep studies, the brain actually releases this hormone later – as late as 11 p.m. – and continues to release it until 8 a.m. or later. It’s not just that teens like to stay up late; their brains are actually not allowing them to become tired until late at night. 

As a result, research suggests that the optimal start time for secondary schools is 8:30 a.m. or later.

Feasibility study

The district recently conducted a feasibility study to examine what later secondary start times would look like in Anacortes. It looked at potential benefits such as improved attendance and grades, fewer tardies and fewer reports of depression or other mental health problems. It also reported the perceived obstacles, how local and statewide districts have successfully made the change, and financial implications.

In addition to athletics and after-school activities, other considerations include the use of shared facilities, and family issues such as childcare and afterschool student employment.

Parent perspective 

Laura Harrison, parent of two teenage sons, first came across the American Association of Pediatrics recommendation when her son participated in elementary band, which meets before school. She was alarmed to learn that a teen’s sleep cycle shifts two hours ahead, regardless of his bedtime.

“I am thrilled that the district has taken steps to consider later start times,” she said. “Knowing that we’re looking into an issue that has such a profound effect on teens’ health, safety and ability to learn makes me very optimistic. I notice a big difference on late start Wednesdays. My boys are less groggy, have more energy, and have a better outlook on the day.” 

Next steps

The district plans to survey students, parents and staff in April. The superintendent and board will review results and share them with stakeholders.

A follow-up community meeting to hear from stakeholders will take place later in the spring. More information, including a Q&A and the feasibility study is on our website: http://www.asd103.org/for_students_and_families/school_start_times_discussion


 

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