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EDITORIAL: Sleeping in for education: Area schools are eyeing a later start time to help teens learn

Keene Sentinel - 11/28/2017

Nov. 28--It's a question that, years ago, wouldn't even have been pondered. Should the high school day start (and end) later?

Though schools in different regions start their days at varying times, for the most part, those times have been set for decades, and district infrastructure -- staff time, busing, meals, pre- and after-school activities, etc. -- all depend on that schedule.

Parents have worked their days around the times their kids go and come home from school. Schools statewide have set times for sporting events and other extracurricular events based on having similar daily schedules. Intricate busing plans, wherein drivers round up and drop off high school or middle school students, then turn around and head out for elementary or kindergarten kids, are in place.

What possible reason could there be for disrupting all that?

How about learning?

A growing body of scientific evidence points to teenagers, in particular, benefiting from a sleep schedule that runs later than most schools' daily schedules allow. The American Academy of Pediatrics and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others, have noted the potential benefits for those going through puberty in terms of health and education.

Keene and Fall Mountain are among the districts looking into the option of beginning the school day an hour later. Both have study panels in the works that will soon make recommendations to their respective school boards.

If either board subsequently adopts the later school day for their high-schoolers and, potentially, middle-schoolers, they'll be joining a small minority of districts in New Hampshire. But they don't have to look far to assess the effects of such a move.

Six years ago, the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union agreed to move back the school day at Brattleboro Union High School from 7:45 to 8:45 a.m. That schedule has been in effect for the past five years.

Principal Steve Perrin, who was interim principal at the time, said while there were obstacles to overcome in changing the schedule, the school got past it and everyone has since adjusted.

More importantly, he said, the evidence is there that the new school day is working for the students.

"We have a growing body of evidence that says our kids do better," said Perrin, "that developmentally it's more appropriate for them."

Keene High School's day starts at 7:25, while Keene Middle School begins at 7:50. In Langdon, Fall Mountain students begin the day at 7:20.

As noted above, moving a school schedule by an hour or so isn't easy, because it doesn't occur in a vacuum. Students' families -- in all the communities that attend the school -- have to adjust to having them home at different times. Other schools might have to compromise on after-school sports and activities, and the district itself has to make accommodations in offering meals, in busing and in deploying crossing guards and other staff.

Students may benefit from sleeping later, but will have to deal with arriving home later, especially if they play sports or live farther from the school. They may have more trouble getting after-school jobs. And, of course, they'll have to ignore the temptation to stay up later because they can sleep in longer.

But if the science is to be believed, there certainly seems to be something to gain in making the change. School is, after all, about learning. And if teens learn better beginning at 8:30 a.m. than 7:30 a.m., it's an idea worth exploring.

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(c)2017 The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.)

Visit The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.) at www.sentinelsource.com

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