Editorial: We can help them sleep on itMorning start times for our local public schools are under scrutiny, and with good reason. Studies show we are increasingly a sleep-deprived nation, which is bad because sleep is called food for the brain.
Morning start times for our local public schools are under scrutiny, and with good reason. Studies show we are increasingly a sleep-deprived nation, which is bad because sleep is called food for the brain.
Lack of brain food leads to a host of problems, including more illnesses, obesity, traffic accidents, poor relationships and diminished work productivity.
Still-growing adolescents are said to be especially at risk. Inadequate sleep is said to curtail their ability to learn, listen, concentrate and solve problems, and also ends up causing more disciplinary issues at school.
What local school officials are trying to decide is whether the 7:25/7:30 a.m. starting times at the high school and Meyer Middle School are aggravating the sleep-deficit problem.
Hudson and River Falls have the earliest morning starts for high school/middle schools in the area followed by Eau Claire Memorial (7:35/7:40); New Richmond, Ellsworth and Eau Claire North (7:40/7:40); Menomonie (7:45/7:45); Somerset (7:55/8:00); Prescott (8:02/8:05); Rice Lake (8:03/8:20); Durand (8:05/8:05);
Amery (8:05/8:10); Osceola (8:13/8:20); Baldwin-Woodville (8:15/8:28); Superior (8:20/8:15); and Chippewa Falls (8:35/8:40). Most school districts, including River Falls, have elementary school start times of 8 a.m. or later.
The focus is on the upper grade levels because those students have earlier morning starts. In fact, the school board was told last week by a member of its School Start Time Committee that teenage bodies are in a natural sleep cycle from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. In River Falls, that means our students are sitting in class when they should be sleeping in bed.
A modest change has been proposed: High school and middle school start times would move ahead to 7:45 a.m., a gain of 20 minutes for high school students and 15 minutes for middle school students. Sleep advocates say every extra minute pays off in higher-quality waking hours.
A more dramatic change to an 8:30 a.m. start time for secondary students would likely result in the need for more buses and a jump in the district’s transportation budget. With the district facing a million-dollar-plus red hole in the 2012-13 school year and asking voters to support a $38.5 million school referendum Nov. 8, such a costly purchase of up to 10 new buses is unrealistic.
We urge a cautious approach. In the 1990s the school district, to save money on buses and bus drivers, split up morning start times. Grade schools went to 8:30 a.m. Upper grades went to 7:30 a.m.
Judging by a multitude of standardized test scores in the intervening years, River Falls students continue to perform equal to or often above their peers. There’s been no academic decline with the early morning starts.
Two parental and staff surveys in the last year have documented only minimal support to change school start times. Beyond that, the surveys fail to show a majority favoring a certain time slot. The 7:45 a.m. start for secondary and the 8:45 a.m. start for elementary did draw the most support.
Perhaps of greater importance than school start times is what happens at home. Obviously as kids grow older, more independent, some even with jobs, it becomes harder to tell them when to get to bed so they get enough sleep.
But parents still must try. As we become aware of all the research touting the benefits of sleep, the incentive to keep trying can’t be any clearer.
The Journal’s online poll question this week asked: Studies show teenage students who sleep longer do better in school. Should we change middle and high school morning start times to make that happen?
Early poll results were:
--NO, it’s fine the way it is: 7:25 a.m. high school and 7:30 a.m. middle school, 15%
--YES, I like the latest proposal to change the start for both schools to 7:45 a.m., 20%
--YES, but let’s make a real difference and change the morning start to either 8 a.m. or even 8:30 a.m., 65%
To vote go to www.riverfallsjournal.com.
A new question appears each Friday.