Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Later is Better

Students, are you really even awake during first period? Is getting up at the crack of dawn affecting how you pay attention in class? Maybe if our bell schedule was pushed back an hour, you would perform better in school.
Right now our 7:20AM bell is too early for students, but not too early for the Smithtown School District Board of Education. A big factor in why we can’t start later is that we would have to end later which conflicts with sports, clubs, teacher meetings, and other after school activities. Instead of starting high school later, they decided to start the elementary school later. It is the high school students, though, who need more sleep. According to a study in The Washington Post, researchers have found that the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin is more abundant in teenagers than in adults and children during the morning. So doesn’t this prove that our school system is in reverse? If young kids are the ones who naturally wake up at 6AM, then why don’t they start school at the earlier time?
Unfortunately, we all realize that first period can’t start at noon. But it can start at 8:30AM. Most kids today are not getting the required eight to nine hour sleep they need to excel in school. Their biological clock keeps them up until around midnight and then they usually have to get up around 6AM, leaving them with only about 6 hours of sleep.
A new study shows that students who start first period at 8:30AM were more likely to get this eight hour sleep and were less likely to be annoyed, depressed and unhappy at the start of the day.
Let’s not forgot about grades. Can getting an hour more of sleep really help your grades? The answer is yes, according to a study shown in the Los Angeles Times, but the increase in grades is not that significant. However, this doesn’t mean that pushing the time back is useless. It may not fully improve their grades, but it does help them stay more awake during the day and have fewer disciplinary problems.
Sleeping later even plays a role in teen driving. Dr. Robert Vorona, an associate professor of internal medicine in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School performed an experiment about school arrival time affecting teen driving. The experiment was done in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, two neighboring cities. Virginia Beach's first period started at 7:20AM and Chesapeake's began at 8:40AM. Fewer accidents were reported for teens that lived in Chesapeake. Vorona states that the Virginia Beach students may be sleep-deprived. She said that students “tend to go to bed later no matter what time they get up.” The amount of sleep is based on the time students have to wake up. Many Smithtown High School students drive to school, so the time change could impact their driving ability.
And teachers, this applies to you too. Starting school too early can affect your enthusiastic energy when you teach. If you teach a first period class, you know how hard it is to keep your eyes open. If you’re half awake while teaching, chances are, the students are going to zone out. The students cannot change this system by themselves, though, so we need the support of parents and teachers to carry out this plan. Hopefully, all of these national studies will convince the Smithtown Board of Education to change the arrival time so that students will be able to get the sleep they need.

-Jenn Booth

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