The wake-up call

Dec. 20, 2001, midnight | By Emily Purcell | 19 years ago

Students benefit from late start times

At 7:45 a.m., the sun has barely risen. For many the day is just beginning, but Montgomery County public high school students are well into their first class of the day. In a typical classroom, some students struggle to stay awake, and others give in to their fatigue and, heads on desks, grab a few extra minutes of much-needed sleep. The tired teens who arrive at Blair at dawn each morning are sacrificing their health, safety and productivity in the name of a needlessly demanding schedule. Meanwhile, the school system refuses to acknowledge a feasible and effective solution to this problem: simply making the high school start time one hour later.

High school students whose sleep cycles push bedtimes past 11:00 p.m. do not get the nine hours of sleep they need, leading to sleep deficiencies that can create dangerous and unhealthy situations for teens. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), dozing off in class is the least of students' worries, as dangerous driving and unhealthy stimulant use are common problems among sleep-deprived teens.

Although the NSF says that adolescents are biologically prone to falling asleep around 11:00 p.m. and waking late in the morning, MCPS forces middle and high school students to adapt their physical needs to its schedule and rise as early as 5:30 a.m. Even as it pushes for higher test scores, the county continues to dismiss the academic benefits of later start times, saying that reworking bus routes and extracurricular schedules is too great an endeavor. However, districts that have implemented a later start time report that the positive changes are overwhelming.

In 1997, Minneapolis public schools shifted the high school start time from 7:15 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. A University of Minnesota study of the change's effect revealed that Minneapolis students generally had the same bedtime as students in a neighboring district that had not made the change, but were able to add 45 minutes of sleep in the morning, when teens have a greater physical need for sleep.

Attendance rates and grades improved every year since the change, and over half of teachers reported that students were more alert and slept in class less often. Coaches and club sponsors reported little change in the amount of time students committed to sports and activities. While adapting to the change was admittedly difficult, participants were more alert and productive as a result.

In light of such results, MCPS's refusal to change its high school start time by one hour to 8:25 a.m. is ridiculous. The $800,000 that the county saves from its $1.2 billion annual school budget by standardizing start times is not worth the exhaustion and low achievement of thousands of early risers. Changing the high school start time certainly has its challenges, but if the students who now snooze through first period end up learning instead, that extra hour will have made a world of difference.

Tags: print

Emily Purcell. Emily Purcell is a senior in the CAP. She has been steadily accumulating knowledge of page design through Silver Chips and Blair's literary magazine, Silver Quill, and is proud to be playing with words and pictures as one of the newspaper's centerspread editors. When not … More »

Show comments


No comments.

Please ensure that all comments are mature and responsible; they will go through moderation.