Early school start times result in health, economic challenges


The Friar’s Lantern (Malvern, Pennsylvania)

You know it’s hard to wake up early in the morning—but do you know the reasons why teenagers should get more sleep?

Studies show that it would be beneficial for high schools to push back the time schools start in the morning to boost productivity.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, many high school age children may now be waking up too early for their health—and for the economy.

According to the article, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends that teenagers get between nine and ten hours of sleep, however, most high school students do not.

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that middle and high school students should start school after 8:30 a.m. But only about 17.7 percent of them do, according to data from Department of Education in the 2011-2012 school year.

“It’s arbitrary, forced on them against their nature, and a poor economic decision as well,” wrote Aaron E. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University of Medicine.

The New York Times article cites a Brookings Institute policy brief which reported that the added academic benefit of later start times may be equivalent to about two additional months of school. They calculated that this would add about $17500 to a student’s earnings over the course of a lifetime.

At Malvern, the issue is all too apparent for students. “I feel very sluggish in the morning because of the time I’m taking to sleep and waking up that early, it’s just really tough on the body,” junior Buck Walsh said. “I believe [Malvern’s opening time] should be pushed back an hour or an hour and thirty. That would be nice.”

Malvern’s administration has also taken notice of the effects and read the research.

“There has been a lot of research done [at Malvern] piecemeal,” Assistant Head of School for Student Leadership Mr. Ron Algeo said. “Sleep has been a big issue, no question about it.”

According to Algeo, Malvern has taken steps to address this issue in the past.

“The reverse-C schedule was an attempt to address this,” he said. “But the solutions don’t come without their own problems.”

One of the biggest said problems Malvern finds with this is that changing the start time for school comes with changing the start time of everything else.

“The issue with that is as an independent school we are dealing with so many other [organizations]. We have public school bussing, so transportation is a huge issue for five out of our seven grades,” Algeo said.

Starting later in the morning would also mean pushing back all after school activities as well.

“If you start the day later and finish school later, after school activities get affected, and you can say that’s just athletics, but that’s not just athletics,” Algeo explained. “We have robotics, you have mathletes, you have a meeting with other schools for activities like Speak Up and the play where you only have a certain amount of time in the afternoon.”

Algeo does not want to sacrifice extracurricular opportunities with a later end to the school day. “As a school, we are excited about these deep dives and providing learning experiences that are what I call on-point,” he said.

Despite all the research and interest in later starts, not all students feel tired during their morning classes.

Junior Aidan Khalil said that how he feels in the morning depends on how he sleeps the night before. “It depends on when I go to bed,” he said.

Khalil still thinks that moving Malvern’s opening time later would be a good decision, if Malvern removes Community Time. “If we remove Community Time, because [if we don’t] then we’ll be in school until four,” he said.

This issue doesn’t only exist in Malvern. Matthew Daniels, a junior at Unionville High School has taken notice of the effect of sleep on students.

recent Huffington Post article stated that Daniels and a group of other teens are pushing school leaders in Chester County to delay school start times.

Daniels will be meeting with community members, including bussing officials and school leaders, about potential changes in his school’s schedule. He has started a local chapter of “Start School Later,” a nonprofit that advocates for later start times, according to the article.

The article reports that the school district’s superintendent is considering the students’ research and proposal. “It’s one thing when you see the reports and hear AAP [American Academy of Pediatrics]…talk about delaying school start times, it’s another thing when one of your students is right in front of you and talks about real-life experiences,” Unionville-Chadds Ford superintendent Dr. John Sanville told Huffington Post.

Even though getting school’s starting time to change would be difficult, Algeo remains hopeful. “It is not something Malvern is not going to think about and revisit,” he said. “It is not something we have just shelved away and said we are never going to look at again.”

Leave a Reply