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Early school start times affect health of kids
September 2, 2018, 2:01 pm
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Numerous studies have shown a correlation between starting school later in the morning, and better sleep, improved attendance, decreased tardiness, less falling asleep in class, better grades, and fewer motor vehicle crashes.

Researchers in the subject say it is not a matter of coddling kids who do not want to wake up on time for school. It is about a quantifiable difference in health, school performance, and safety that later school start times have been shown to make.

In fact, the evidence is so compelling that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, as well as the American Sleep Association (ASA), the American Psychological Association (APA), and the American Medical Association (AMA) have all released statements encouraging school districts to make the transition to later start times.

So, if later start times are healthier for students and recommended by leading health authorities, why are more schools not making the change. There is no single or simple answer to this.

Among the factors that schools must consider before making a change to a later start time are:

Shared resources such as school buses and shared schedules: Most schools share buses among all three education levels — elementary, middle, and high school. Finding a solution that would get kids to school with the same resources already at hand will mean someone always has to start earlier. For instance, if middle and high schools had to start later, elementary schools would have to start earlier.

The natural solution might seem to be giving elementary school students the earliest shift since they are typically the earliest risers anyway. But in some places, especially during winter months, that may mean young children waiting at a bus stop in near darkness — a solution not all parents are comfortable with.

Working parents also have their own arguments against shifting school start times. In addition to managing their work schedule while trying to get kids to and from school, some argue that earlier elementary school start times means having to come up with several hours of after-school care — putting a dent in the family’s monthly budget.

Proponents of later start time point out that most adults do not work 8-hour workdays, then follow up with four hours of team practices, after-school jobs, and homework, which is what most kids have to do during school term. The packed schedules usually drain children of energy and without adequate sleep they tend to be drowsy and listless during school hours. Starting school later gives children an extra hour of sleep time.

According to doctors, most teens are biologically programmed to fall asleep after 11pm and wake up at 8am or later. They cannot just force themselves to go to bed earlier. Earlier start times mean these kids are then required to function and learn during their lowest level of alertness in the day.

To be an active, involved learner in the classroom, you need to be well-rested. We are handicapping our kids when we deprive them of sleep with our start-time policies, say proponents of later start time. In addition, one other benefit for later start times for middle school and high school students, is that it often results in less time these kids are left alone after school hours before their parents get off work — which means less time for them to potentially get in trouble.

 

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