Breaking the hearts of many students, there will be no late starts beginning next school year. The change comes from superintendent Ed Graff, as he is prohibiting certain schools from maintaining their Community Partnership status, a title which Southwest currently holds. A Community Partnership school has more autonomy, freedom to connect with the community, and ability to determine certain elements of its own schedule (including late starts). It is assumed that the superintendent made this change due to the lack of full control he can maintain over schools with this Community Partnership designation. When asked to comment on the matter, his office gave no response.
Some people would argue: so what? Does a two hour start time delay once a month really matter?
Yes, it does. Research has shown that high schoolers benefit from a later start time: they get better sleep, are more productive, are more attentive during class, get better grades, have a better sense of well-being, and drivers are involved in fewer accidents.
According to Horacio de la Iglesia, a University of Washington biology professor and lead researcher who published a paper on the subject, “This study shows a significant improvement in the sleep duration of students — all by delaying school start times so that they’re more in line with the natural wake-up times of adolescents.” (Courtesy of UW News).
High schoolers get to bed late. Homework, dinner, and any activities or sports that many of us are involved in contribute to late bedtimes. Your average teenager isn’t in bed until 12, and oftentimes later than that. That’s natural; it’s part of our internal clock. But, what isn’t natural is the requirement for students to wake up in time to be at school before 8 a.m. The teenage brain doesn’t want to be fully alert or awake early in the morning, making it hard to concentrate or excel in classes at that time.
Not only does this unnatural schedule affect academic performance, it also affects mental health. As reported by researchers at the University of Texas School of Public Health, from a study involving 4,175 youth, “These results are the first to document reciprocal effects for major depression and sleep deprivation among adolescents using prospective data. The data suggest reduced quantity of sleep increases risk for major depression, which in turn increases risk for decreased sleep.” Sleep deprivation led to an increase in symptoms of depression and three times the risk of major depression. These results cannot be ignored, as the mental health of high schoolers has become a very important national concern in recent years. Schools do not want to spend the money for more guidance and behavioral counselors because of the increased budget cuts at both local and national levels.
According to the Minnesota Sleep Society, “Research shows that delaying school start times in order to better align with a teenager’s biological clock can substantially improve the overall health, academic and athletic performance, and safety of adolescents in our communities.”
Schools that have made the change to start at 8:45 or later saw boosts in productivity and “high staff and parent satisfaction with schedules, better outcomes for student health and well-being,” says the Minnesota Sleep Society, “Negative consequences that were predicted from the schedule changes did not materialize.”
So, schools should start later. But, how much can these once a month late starts do? I, among many of my peers, relish that two hour delay; I look forward to it every month. I feel more productive and prepared, and have a more positive opinion towards school. It’s not ideal, but until the Minnesota state legislature introduces a bill to make later start times for high schools mandatory statewide, there’s not much we can do (I believe a statewide mandate is required so that athletics and after-school activities can be aligned across districts). So for now, late starts are as good as we can do. If Mr. Graff is reading this, please let us keep our late starts; they’re all we got.