ANOTHER VIEWPOINT: Sleep, sports, siblings all factors in school schedules


The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin

Ask any teen: 8 a.m. isn’t learning time

Remember when you were a teenager?

If you’re like most, you wanted to stay up later than your parents would let you. And in the morning, you dreaded that call from the hallway — “Get up! You’re going to be late for school!”

Used to be, adults would say droopy morning teens were just lazy.

Now, experts say that teens have different biological rhythms than the rest of us. Simply put — their biological clocks say stay up late and get up late. And they need a lot of sleep — 8 to 10 hours a night, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

But most schools still function on a traditional daily clock, with classes starting before 8 a.m. Bleary-eyed teens stumble into their classrooms and snooze through first period — and maybe second, too.

So, the solution seems simple: Move the start of the school day back to at least 8:30 a.m., the time recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

But it’s not that easy. Other factors merit consideration.

While most teens would thrive on a later school day, it might not fit the rest of the family’s schedule. After all, parents have to work jobs that generally start by 9 a.m., sometimes earlier, and they like to see their kids off to school before they leave for work.

South Madison Community Schools Superintendent Joe Buck said as much when asked recently about the possibility of kicking the school day back an hour or so.

First period at Pendleton Heights Middle School and High School starts at 7:25 a.m., while SMS elementary schools don’t start class until an hour later.

Given the natural sleep habits of teens, why wouldn’t SMS just flip the two schedules?

Well, because many parents object to the idea. They want their older kids home from school first to look after the little ones when they get off the bus.

Extracurricular activities are another consideration. If you push the start of the school day back, practice schedules and some game schedules would be affected. Specifically, it could be cause for concern for outdoor sports, many of which take place on unlighted fields.

In the end, though, tradition — the way things have always been done — is the primary driving force behind the traditional school schedule. That and the continuing notion that teens are just lazy and need the discipline to get up early and go to bed early.

But that’s not working too well.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2015 study showed that 70% of high schoolers are sleep deprived and 57% of middle schoolers don’t get enough shuteye on school nights.

As school officials and parents consider the question of school start times, they must ask themselves: What is school all about?

Learning, of course. And it just makes sense to set a daily school schedule that best positions teens for that objective.

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