Giving truth to Memphis youth
By Sudeshna Barman
White Station High School
High schools should not start at seven in the morning. Clear and simple. It is far too early in the morning for us to learn; it’s too early for teachers to teach. Several decades’ worth of studies have shown that teenagers perform better with a later start time.
Because of our hormone cycles, teenagers have difficulty producing melatonin, which controls our sleep cycle and makes us feel sleepy, until 11 p.m. With an earlier start time, students get less sleep, which in turn affects our academic performance, our mental health, and our motor skills.
Maybe you think that giving teenagers more sleep is a way to spoil us. The nonprofit organization Start School Later, however, writes that “Requiring high schools to start after 8:30 or 9 a.m. is no more coddling kids than installing car seats or booster seats in automobiles or eliminating indoor smoking in public locations. [They] were originally seen as inappropriate and unnecessary but, with newer research, came to be viewed as mainstream public health measures.”
Maybe you think it’s a way to prepare us for the “real world.” But most offices open at nine and end at five. Unless an employee works in a specialized field that requires erratic hours (i.e. at a news station, at a hospital), the majority of adults start work at eight in the morning or later. The earliest college classes start at eight, and students have the option of taking classes much later in the day.
And just because you have to do something when you’re older, that doesn’t mean you have to do it now. Do we ask kindergarteners to skip their afternoon naps because they won’t be allowed to do that in middle school?
But, you argue, if we start school later, kids will just go to sleep later. It’s a valid, reasonable concern. But a landmark study from the University of Minnesota showed that “starting school about 1/2 hour later resulted in teens getting a full hour of extra sleep each school night.”
Several subsequent studies have found the same thing: when schools “move to later morning starts, students consistently got more sleep per school night because they went to bed at or near the same time each night and were able to rise later in the morning.”
But as usual, the most important concerns are those of money and politics. Our district is currently using the same set of buses to ferry elementary (9 a.m.), middle (8 a.m.), and high school (7 a.m.) students. If the district has all students start school at the same time, they will have to use more buses in order that all students can be transported to school.
In the proposed 2014-2015 Shelby County Schools budget two-bell start times were not included. The Board of Education approved the budget on April 22 in a 6-0 vote. The budget will be presented to the County Commission on Wednesday, May 7; commissioners are expected to vote on the budget on June 2.
It must first be pointed out that it is supremely unfair that the entire district, including over 140,000 students and 16,000 teachers, must be forced into a schedule that suits the needs of a minority. There are far more students that do not ride a school bus than there are bus riders.
The lack of buses affects students in other ways, too. Because the buses are being used throughout the day, opportunities for field trips are severely limited. Students have difficulty attending academic enrichment opportunities, such as math tests, science fairs, and workshops, because teachers can no longer use the district’s buses. Students must instead find rides with upperclassmen, teachers, and parents. White Station High School’s annual senior picnic was canceled because buses were not available, leaving students frustrated and angry. Knowledge Bowl, Science Olympiad, the Math Team, the Chess Team—these extracurricular groups have had difficulty getting to competitions because of the lack of buses.
And are these not the offerings that distinguish a school? Yes, we go to school to take classes and learn, but superior public schools offer a variety of challenging, co-curricular, competitive extracurricular opportunities. When students win prestigious prizes at such events, this increases the respectability of not only the school, but also the district. Shouldn’t SCS be encouraging these endeavors rather than stifling them?
Switching to an earlier high school start time of 8 a.m. or perhaps even 8:30 am would offer countless benefits to both students and the school system. It would allow us to standardize with the rest of the nation. It means that high school students would be less likely to be involved in traffic accidents, to have trouble paying attention in class, and even to drop out. It means fewer tardies and higher test scores. Moving to a later time would also benefit parents, who may have difficulty leaving work at 2 p.m., the middle of the day, to pick up students.
Why do we need to start at 7 a.m. in the first place? The original rationale behind this policy was to coordinate legacy MCS schools with legacy SCS schools. Now, suburban districts are planning to split into six separate districts anyway. Why continue with this policy when it has lost its purpose?
Yes, a later school start time means a later end time. This may affect student-athletes and employed students, who will have reduced time after school to play sports and work. Parents, teachers, and students have all joined together to express their displeasure through a series of online petition and polls. Parent groups have presented their views to the school board; students have written letters and started projects in attempting to reach the board.
Shelby County Schools is moving in a positive direction with its district-wide online survey, which asked parents what time they wanted to see their children go to school during the 2014-2015 school year. The survey, which offers a wide range of times to choose from, is a commendable effort. But unless action is taken based upon the survey’s results, it is ultimately a meaningless gesture.
The evidence is overwhelmingly in support of delaying high school start times. With a later start time, it is indubitable that we students will collectively benefit. And as we rise, so too will rise our parents, our teachers, our administrators, our employers – our community.