Watertown High School and Middle School students may get to sleep in later as the School Committee considers moving the start of school later in the morning.
Teens have different body clocks that younger students (or their parents) and research into sleep patterns find that they do not start functioning at full capacity until later in the morning, said Donna Ruseckas, the schools’ Director of Wellness and Extended Services, at Monday’s School Committee meeting.
High school students need nine hours sleep and their typical sleep cycle is from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m., Ruseckas said. Studies found about 2/3 of high school students get get less than 8 hours of sleep.
Ruseckas was part of the Wellness Committee that looked at the issue, and surveyed students and parents.
The high school starts at 7:55 a.m. and the middle school begins the day at 7:40 a.m.
Students and Parents Surveyed
The survey found a majority of high school students (61 percent) and parents (53 percent) responded positively pushing the school start time back by 15 minutes. When asked about moving it back 30 minutes and 46 percent of both students and parents had a positive view. For the students 32 percent saw it negatively and 22 percent were neutral. For parents, 31 percent were negative and 23 percent neutral.
The response to moving it 45 minutes back were more negative than positive for students (43 percent negative, 33 percent positive) and for parents (46 percent negative and 33 percent positive).
The middle school students were not as enthusiastic about moving the start time later. Forty-seven percent reacted positively to a 15 minute later start and 43 percent were positive about a 30 minute later start. Looking at a 45 minute later start, 50 percent of students had a negative reaction.
Parents reacted more positively, with 64 percent for a 15 minute later time and 55 percent supporting a 30 minute later start. Only 34 percent favored a 45 minute later start, with 45 percent against it.
The biggest concern from the student’s perspective, Ruseckas said, is that a later start would cut into their after-school activities, such as sports, non-school sponsored activities and jobs.
School Committee member Eileen Hsu-Balzer said she wants to make sure that students won’t just stay up later because they can sleep in later.
Parent Marybeth Allen, who is on the Wellness Committee, said that is not the experience of other districts who had changed the start time.
“Some districts looked at that and students weren’t staying up to 1 or 2 in the morning,” Allen said. “The were getting extra sleep.”
Other parents at the meeting spoke in favor of moving the start time later. Julie Walsh said she has a daughter in high school and she has to get up by 6 a.m. to get ready for school, so she is two hours short of the amount of sleep she needs.
Alyson Morales said she had read about Nauset High School, where the principal said it is a decision that has made one of the biggest positive impacts on education that he has seen in his career. They had fewer disciplinary issues, less tardiness and fewer drop outs.
The Wellness Committee’s recommendation was to move the high school start time later by 15 minutes and the middle school later by 30 minutes so both would start at 8:10 a.m. All three elementary schools would start at 8:30 a.m.
A second option would be beginning the day at both WHS and WMS at 8:30 a.m. (20 minutes later for the high school and 50 minutes later for the middle school). This would require starting school at the elementary level at 8 a.m., Ruseckas said.
The School Committee will discuss the start time at the Police Subcommittee, but some members weighed in on the idea.
School Committee member Candace Miller said she thinks the later option is better.
“I think the research is very very clear,” Miller said. “As the School Committee I think changes we should look for changes that will continue to make improvements to education. I think 8:30 is the right thing to do.”
Guido Guidotti agreed with his colleague.
“I think 10 years from now everybody is going to be doing this,” Guidotti said. “Why can’t we be one of the first.”