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Nov 2, 201211:59 AMEducation Matters

Not Everyone Thinks MCPS High Schools Should Start Later

Nov 2, 2012 - 11:59 AM
Not Everyone Thinks MCPS High Schools Should Start Later

Alan Goodwin, principal at Walt Whitman High School. Photo by James Kim

The momentum appears to be slowing, but as of today, just over 7,000 people have signed a petition urging Montgomery County Public Schools to start high school later in the morning.

The issue continues to draw support from those who believe that the 7:25 a.m. start time for Montgomery County public high schools is too early and detrimental to the health, safety and academic performance of students.

With all that support, parents in favor of a change may be disheartened to learn that the principals of two of MCPS’s top performing high schools don’t believe it’s a feasible idea.

In fact, Walt Whitman High School Principal Alan Goodwin is opposed to changing the start time and thinks that moving it later in the morning would cause more problems than it would solve. And though Michael Doran, principal of Rockville’s Thomas S. Wootton High School, would prefer a later start time so that students weren’t so sluggish in early classes, he agrees that it “might solve one problem and start another problem.”

“It’s not like what we’ve got wasn’t working, is not working, and there’s going to be a disaster,” Doran said recently. “If there were real issues with grades and learning, this would come up more often with educators.”

Still, the veteran principal notes that “we make it work, but I also think kids’ health is important.”

While no one disagrees that teens could benefit from more sleep, Goodwin thinks that students are more likely to go bed later if they know they can sleep an extra hour in the morning. And even though teens favor a later start time, “not one has said they’d like a later ending time. They like getting out at 2:10 [p.m.]” to participate in extracurricular activities, he said.

When it comes to changing start times, logistics—especially those related to transportation— trumps other issues, the principals said. Bus scheduling and traffic are major concerns.

“I don’t think anybody really thinks that being in school at 7 o’clock is the best thing,” Doran said. “The reality is, how do we get these kids in the building?”

If high schools were to start after 8:15 a.m., students would be heading to school well into the morning rush hour, with elementary and middle school students possibly starting out even later. “The traffic in this area becomes more voluminous every 15 minutes,” Goodwin noted, meaning that students would have to leave more time to get to school, resulting in a diminishing “net gain in rest.”  

That goes as well for teachers who may live far from their schools and may face longer travel times to get to work. And it isn’t a good idea to switch high school start times with those for elementary schools because it’s not safe to have young children—who may not be accompanied by adults—waiting for buses or walking to school that early, Goodwin said.  

If the school day lasts longer, that means buses would be on the road later in the day, potentially running into evening rush hour.

“The bottom line is we can’t transport all the kids at the same time,” Doran said.  “It really becomes a lot more complex the more you know. It’s not an easy yes or no.”

Goodwin said he considers the problem of sleepy teens to largely be a parenting issue. It’s important to enforce a bedtime schedule and not let students sleep too long on weekends because that messes up their cycles for the next week, he said.

“Every year this [issue] comes up with the incoming ninth-grade parents,” he said. “I understand. I had two teenage boys. It was a challenge to get them up.”

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Nov 2, 2012 05:48 pm
 Posted by  SP

Change is always difficult. The goal of a school first and foremost is the educate the children. I believe that should be the priority and work to figure out ways to make it better everyday. Just like babies need a lot of sleep and food to grow at the rate they need to and then slow down, teens are going through physical maturity and while we are ready to acknowledge that they need the food we find it harder to accept that they need the sleep as well. Less behavioral issues to deal with in the school, the more teachers can focus on the education which in turn produces successful students and proud and less stressed out teachers. The overall benefits to society in the short term and long are way more than the monetary costs associated with the changes. This has been implemented successfully and gotten positive results in counties that are not considered as rich as Montgomery county. Why not look into what can be done. As for not sleeping in on weekends, I personally have to get up at 5 every morning and the few times I have not been able to sleep in, I have been an inefficient wreck for the rest of the week. Rest is very important and if your sleep cycle dictates your restful cycle is in the mornings, its not going to help to wake up at 5am everyday. Starting later is not an impossible task - http://www.cehd.umn.edu/research/highlights/Sleep/

Nov 2, 2012 09:27 pm
 Posted by  sleep4healthandlearning

I wonder what the principals of a high school that already starts after 8:15 would say if you suggested they switch to 7:25?

Here's a quote from a principal who had experiences working in both early and later starting schools, a former national Principal of the Year, Mel Riddile, wrote in his blog “The Principal Difference”, “I spent my first 28 years in education with a 7:20 start time. For my last two years I moved to a school that had an 8:30 start time. I can personally attest to the fact that one hour made a huge difference in the mood of the students and staff. They were awake! If I had the choice, I would never go back to the earlier start time. The argument that I most often hear in support of the early start time is sports and activities. As the Minneapolis study found, student participation in sports and activities was not adversely affected by the later start time. In fact, in my last year, our boys' basketball team won the state championship.”

One additional note: Students with later morning start times do sleep longer. The notion that they will just stay up later is false. Multiple studies show the same result. High school students fall asleep at about the same time at night (in most studies the average time seems to be at about 10:45 or 11:00), so the later morning wake time results in more sleep. Even students with the BEST self-discipline and an excellent sleep hygiene routine can't fall asleep as early as is required to achieve the 9 hours recommended by pediatricians for children this age. They'd have to be in bed and asleep at about 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. According to Dr. Dement (sleep expert), that's like asking them to jump 10 feet in the air. Most of them simply can't do it. We need to schedule the school day to work for the students. These are excellent schools now. Just imagine what the students and teachers would be capable of with a full night of sleep.

Nov 3, 2012 12:56 pm
 Posted by  agm

I find the more you know about the issue the easier it becomes ask why we did not change the start time years ago. With decades of experience in school systems around the U.S. and medical data spanning the globe we do not need to rely on opinions. We know that numerous doctors and medical institutions have published in favor of change arguing to "Give children and adolescents the gift of a good night's sleep: A call to action"[Sleep Medicine 12 (2011) 203-304]. Meta-analysis provides evidence of a litany of consequences directly linked to adolescent sleep deprivation ["Recent worldwide sleep patterns and problems during adolescence: A review and meta-analysis of age, region, and sleep" Sleep Medicine 12 (2011) 110-118]. In the event that decades of evidence is insufficient reports from those on the front line might prove compelling. Strong, vocal opposition from experienced faculty and staff to the proposed change in start time at their high school changed to unanimous support within two months. One teacher stated "On a more personal note, I have found the 8:30 start to be the single most positive impact to my general quality of life at [the school] since I started 12 years ago." What are we waiting for?["Impact of Delaying School Start Time on Adolescent Sleep, Mood, and Behavior" Arch. Pediatr. Adolesc. Med./Vol. 164(No.7)July 2010 608-614] More importantly all health benefits have been documented. Don't we want those health benefits for our children?

Dec 29, 2012 09:43 pm
 Posted by  lalasim

If teenagers need more sleep, just make them turn the tv off (or their computers/phones) at 10:00pm and go to sleep. In many other countries students have to get up early to go to school and none of them have suffered health issues, they just need to be disciplined. Discipline is really going to make a difference in our youth behavior, attitudes and achievement. Keep on changing everything to accomodate to your kids desires and you will contribute to enlarge the crisis our teenagers have because they do not know how to deal with responsibilities.

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