Christina School District researches later school start times

(File/WHYY)

(File/WHYY)

Some Delaware students could get more time to sleep in depending on the outcome of a study by the Christina School District.

Delaware middle and high school students often set their alarms as early as 5 a.m. in order to make their 6:30 a.m. bus and arrive at school around 7 a.m.

When they return home from school, by the time they’ve eaten dinner, completed their homework and participated in any after school activities, they may not go to sleep until 11 p.m. or midnight.

This means they’re only getting about five or six hours of sleep per night—and struggle to stay awake and perform well in class.

This was something Elizabeth Paige, the president of the Christina District School Board, said her daughter struggles with on a daily basis.

“I have a daughter who’s now a senior in high school, who we struggled in middle school and high school with the morning routine and tiredness, and started doing the research and realized it’s not just us. We’re sending middle school and high school kids to school too early,” she said.

“When she got more sleep, life for her was better in general and she was more focused and alert.”

Earlier this year Paige wrote a resolution calling for the superintendent to study the possibility of starting school after 8 a.m. The Christina Board of Education passed the resolution in May.

Now Christina School District is researching how school start times impact middle and high school students’ learning, if changing start times in the district would be effective and how it would make the shift.

Those against changing start times are concerned about its impact on family life, and starting other activities an hour later. Others are concerned about coordinating bus schedules, as buses currently run on two schedules. The state also has a shortage of bus drivers, which might impact new bus scheduling.

However, those in favor of later start times point to research showing a connection between quality sleep and students’ health.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports later start times allows students to sleep between 8.5 and 9.5 hours, improving physical and mental health, safety, academic performance and quality of life.

“It’s good for children’s mental health, physical health, all around it’s better for kids based on the way children’s brains develop,” Paige said.

“If it’s good mentally, physically, emotionally and academically for students we should at least be exploring the option to make the move.”

The District will work with research firm Hanover Research to examine how other school districts that adjusted start times addressed communication, scheduling, transportation, sports and after-school activities.

The District also is asking staff, parents, students and the community to participate in an online survey through November for feedback on how school start times may affect student success. No additional action will be taken until at least December, Paige said.

“My goal for the resolution was to do the work to see if makes sense to make this happen,” she said.

“This is not something we can do as a board responsibly to snap our fingers and make the decision to make the shift. If we make this decision, we need to do in a way that allows people to utilize school choice—either come to our school district because they like it or feel it impacts their family life in a way they don’t want to participate and choice out of the district.”

The Christina School District School Start Times Survey is available at the following link: http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/3063051/e2158fc28598

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