When Adorable Child (AC) started middle school in the Katy school system this past year, I had a somewhat malicious sense of satisfaction in knowing she has to get up a full hour earlier (6 am) than she had to in elementary school. Given the flack that comes my way from my pre-teen, I wasn’t tremendously sympathetic… but that doesn’t mean I was oblivious.
We tried to compensate for AC’s very early schedule with a firm, fairly early bedtime, but as the months have passed, this has begun to fail. More and more, it seems that she simply cannot get to sleep at 9:30, no matter how carefully we plan the routine.
Like everything else in her life at the moment, the problem appears to be hormonal. Go figure.
Research shows that teenagers’ body clocks are set to a schedule that is different from that of younger children or adults. This prevents adolescents from dropping off until around 11 p.m., when they produce the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, and waking up much before 8 a.m. when their bodies stop producing melatonin. The result is that the first class of the morning is often a waste, with as many as 28 percent of students falling asleep, according to a National Sleep Foundation poll. Some are so sleepy they don’t even show up, contributing to failure and dropout rates.
No surprises there for the parenting world, and since I’m sure AC isn’t the only one drifting off in Science class at 7:25 am, it’s bound to be common knowledge in the school systems, too.
So could things be done differently? Yup.
In 2002, high schools in Jessamine County in Kentucky pushed back the first bell to 8:40 a.m., from 7:30 a.m. Attendance immediately went up, as did scores on standardized tests, which have continued to rise each year. Districts in Virginia and Connecticut have achieved similar success. In Minneapolis and Edina, Minn., which instituted high school start times of 8:40 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. respectively in 1997, students’ grades rose slightly and lateness, behavioral problems and dropout rates decreased.
Simply reversing the start times of the elementary and upper schools would be a pretty straight-forward beginning. This, though, is not:
So if candidates want the parent vote, here’s a wake-up call. Stand up for an educational policy that allows students’ real needs — rather than outdated time constraints — to dictate how and when our children learn best.
Ummm…. no, thanks. As much as I agree that educational policy should incorporate students’ real needs, this problem belongs to the parents in their respective school districts.
We don’t need any more “helpful” federal guidance at this level.