LETTER: Watertown Middle and High Schools Need to Start Later

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Watertown should move the middle and high school start times to 8:30am or later to support students’ health and academic performance. Currently the middle school starts at 7:40 a.m. and the high schools starts at 7:55. The superintendent will report on a survey of Watertown parents, students and teachers regarding potential new school start times at the School Committee meeting to be held on Monday, May 2, 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

Middlesex district superintendents released a statement in March agreeing to consider moving high school start times to between 8:00 and 8:30 a.m. by fall of 2017. Over the last decade, and increasingly across the country, school districts are looking at starting school later. Their interest is based on studies that show that starting school later supports teens’ health, including mental health and decision-making about risky behaviors. Studies from districts that have moved school start times later show improved academic performance and decreased stress, illness, illicit drug use, and sports injuries.

Sleep researchers have confirmed that students’ sleep cycles shift when they enter adolescence: their melatonin levels keep them wakeful until about 10:30 or 11:00. Teens need about nine hours of sleep. If they can’t fall asleep until 11:00, then they need to sleep until 8:00. Starting school earlier than 8:30 makes it hard for teens to be fully rested, eat breakfast, commute to school, and be alert in class.

Sleep research has also shown important findings for teens and adults associating cognitive function and physical and mental health with the amount of sleep they get.

Based on scientific studies of sleep and of school districts that have moved school start times later, the American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Education Association, Education Commission of the States, National Sleep Foundation, and other health and education organizations have issued formal statements confirming the need to support teens in getting more sleep and/or recommending starting school later as a way to do this.

The logistics involved with changing school start times have been overcome by Massachusetts and other states’ schools. Some districts have found that so-called obstacles were really just unfounded fear of change. Research by the Brookings Institute shows that the benefits of starting school later far outweigh the costs.

The national organization, Start School Later, has published many relevant studies at their web site: http://www.startschoollater.net. I encourage interested people to visit this site to learn more about the benefits of starting school later. Also, the May 2 School Committee meeting provides an opportunity to hear and comment on the superintendent’s recommendations about potential new start times for Watertown Public Schools.


Rebecca Grow
Hosmer School Parent

One thought on “LETTER: Watertown Middle and High Schools Need to Start Later

  1. Yes this is a long time coming! You can send your kids to sleep but that doesn’t mean they will be able to do so!
    The data is quite clear and the challenges can be overcome(IMO).

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