Late Start for Sleepy Students

Filed under: In The News

A proposed hour or more delay of school starting time may give kids a better night's sleep and help them remain more alert in the classroom, but it can also wreak havoc on after-school care and programs.

The buzz of the alarm clock often comes before sunrise for students at Fairfax, VA, schools. Like most school districts across the country, high school here starts before 7:30 a.m. which leaves too many kids nodding off in class, unable to concentrate.

The solution, says one group of parents, is to fast-forward the starting bell. The problem, says their vocal opposition, is that it would be a scheduling nightmare, especially in families with two working parents.

Parents in The Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal (S.L.E.E.P.) says adolescents need more sleep to do well in school. They've created a nifty Web site offering links to studies showing that kids do better with more sleep, and case histories of schools that have found success starting their days later than the norm.

On the other side is W.A.K.E., Worried About Keeping Extra-curriculars. Their site offers a sober description of the disruptions with any times changes. (W.A.K.E. seems slightly better researched of the two, but both sides get an A for acronyms.)

The proposed changes would have high school starting at 8:30 a.m., and middle school at 9:40 a.m. Elementary schools could open as late as 9:25 a.m.

Over at The Juggle, The Wall Street Journal's parenting blog, comments range from "NEVER!" to "good idea in theory, but difficult in practice." One interesting idea floated is the notion of moving extracurricular programs to the morning. "Is there a law that says a swim meet has to be after school? Ice Hockey players practice in the wee hours all the time, why can't the drama club practice the musical before school rather than after?"

That may work for older kids, why mess with kids from the younger graders? One elementary school teacher points out that "my students are at their best in the morning hours. By the time we reach the afternoon they are whining, tired, and sometimes even hungry." I agree with everything except for the "sometimes" hungry part. How about always?

As for the teens, they're going to stay up too late no matter what time they get out of bed. The benefits may be meaningless.

Do you think school should start later? Or is your kids' school schedule fine the way it is?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.