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The school committee met on October 30th to discuss the proposed start time plan. PHOTO/

The school committee met on October 30th to discuss the proposed start time plan. PHOTO/

The school committee met on October 30th to discuss the proposed start time plan. PHOTO/

Delayed start time for 2018 proposed

November 16, 2017

After nearly a year of meetings and discussions, the plan to change school start time has entered its  final stages.

Involving school committee members, principals, teachers, and parents, the Start Time/Schedule Innovation Steering Committee has been meeting since January 2017 to review students’ emotional and physical health.

“As we dug deeper into the research, [the issues] got broader rather than narrower. That’s why we decided this fall we were going to focus on start time first” committee vice chair John Henry said.  “It’s something we feel like we can address and make a difference quickly.”

Sleep deprivation has been a rising issue among WHS students. Studies show sleep to be crucial in optimizing brain function and memory, but only 10% of WHS students get the recommended 8-9 hours of sleep, compared to the national average of 30%.

Because teenage hormones disrupt circadian rhythms for sleep, it is difficult for teens to fall asleep before 10:45 p.m. and wake up before 8:00 a.m, according to Dr. Chun Lim, a cognitive neurologist at Harvard University.

“This is a biological shift. We can’t make our children go to sleep any earlier,” Lim said during a recent committee meeting. “The problem of getting them awake at 6-7 in the morning is equivalent to asking an adult to wake up 5 in the morning.”

According to data from other school districts, a later start time resulted in decreased rates of tardiness, teenage car accidents, cases of anxiety, and depression. At the same time, GPA, standardized test scores, and attention span in class increased.

“There’s a great quote from one of the studies that 92% of parents said their children were ‘easier to live with’ after the school start time change,” Henry said with a chuckle.

Although a later start time allows has benefits including increased sleep, many WHS students were worried that they will end up sleeping later.

“If we get home later, we would get to sleep later, [and be] equally tired,” said sophomore Mikkel Hersum . “It would just shift everything later in the day.”

However, data from other schools shows that students often sleep at the same time, even with the delay of a school’s start time.

Absolutely and universally across all districts that have delayed school start time, kids get more sleep as the number one result,” Henry said.

Despite mostly positive feedback, Henry said many parents were also worried about kids missing more class due to afterschool sports games. The committee has been communicating with other schools in the area to address these problems.

The proposed change to schedules would reduce high school blocks by 8 minutes and middle school blocks by 5 minutes, shifting the school start time from 7:30 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. and dismissal from 2:50 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.

The new schedule may also include a weekly “W Block” from 7:45-8:30 a.m, which would be a time for students to meet with their teachers.

There’s going to be some inconvenience,” Henry explained. “Change is always hard, but in the end I think this is the best thing to do for students. The most important thing is to focus on the students.”

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