I am very happy to see that Watertown is considering moving start times later for both the Middle and High School. Thank you to the Wellness Committee and to everyone that worked on this initiative.
While any movement towards later start times is a positive development, I would like to show my support for moving start times to 8:30 a.m. If we are going to make a change, why not go for the best solution possible? According to the survey data, 50 percent or more of students and parents are either neutral or in favor of moving start times as much as 45 minutes later, and that was with little to no district-wide education on the benefits. The survey cited that one of the major stumbling blocks was perceived to be conflicts with after school sports. All of the Superintendents in the Middlesex League have agreed to move their high school start times to between 8 and 8:30 a.m. by the start of the 2018-2019 school year. This should ensure that there in fact wouldn’t be any conflict with after school sports.
There is a plethora of research that shows that teens need between 8.5 and 9.25 hours of sleep per night. In Watertown, 40.5 percent of our middle school students and 72.3 percent of our high school students are getting less than 8 hours of sleep on an average school night. The average Watertown middle school student is only getting 7.6 hours of sleep while the average high school student is only getting 6.6 hours of sleep. This is one to two hours below the minimum amount necessary.
There has been a strong movement in Massachusetts and nationally to move secondary school start times later. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Massachusetts Medical Society, the National Association of School Nurses, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, the CDC and others recommend that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. Research has shown that teens have a biologically different sleep cycle than adults and younger children. Their sleep-wake cycles are delayed by about two hours, making it difficult for teens to fall asleep before 11pm and wake before 8 a.m.
A University of Minnesota Study found that moving start times from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. resulted in many positive outcomes. There were lower drop out rates, less depression, fewer disciplinary referrals, less tardiness, less sleeping in class, less caffeine consumption, and fewer teen car crashes. There was also improved attendance, better academic performance, higher standardized test scores, and teens were getting more hours of sleep. Homework was even done faster due to better alertness and efficiency.
There are numerous benefits to ensuring our teens and adolescents get enough sleep, far too many to mention here. There was a great article in the Boston Globe in March that discussed the benefits of later start times. Nauset Regional High School moved its start time from 7:25 a.m. to 8:35 a.m. in 2012. Tardiness dropped by 35 percent and the number of Ds and Fs dropped by half. The Nauset Superintendent said “With almost 40 years in public education, this is one of the finest changes I have made in improving student learning” when referring to the change in start times.
If we are going to make the change, and I hope we do, I would like to encourage that we move start times to no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
For more information please go to Start School Later Watertown, MA on Facebook or visit the national Start School Later website at startschoollater.net.