High School Starts Too Early. "OH Really?"
At high schools throughout Northeast Ohio, start times can be anywhere between 7 and 9 a.m. And a listener asks our “OH Really” team if that’s too early for teenagers.
“There is a lot of research indicating that school should start later, especially high school,” said Mark Slutz, a retired teacher from Canton. In his career, he worked at several districts where he felt students weren’t ready to go when the morning bell rang.
“That's sort of a big thing in science right now," he said. "A couple of my friends that are working for school districts now are like, ‘You wouldn't believe the time some of these buildings start in the morning.’”
Tallmadge currently has one of the earliest start times in the region. “OH Really?” Editor Sarah Taylor’s daughter, Claire, is a junior there.
“So, the office bell rings at 7:15, and we have to be in class by 7:20. And next year it's going to be starting 20 minutes later, so we will have to be in class at 7:40. And it's not a big difference, but I think it'll be better for everyone, including teachers, because we'll all get a little bit of extra time in the morning,” Claire Taylor said.
Why the change?
The shift to a later time was driven by several factors. First, the elementary schedule was moved 45 minutes later, and buses were sitting idle for a longer period after completing the middle- and high-school runs. Second, the growing realization that teens need extra sleep. And there’s a third reason according to Superintendent Steve Wood.
“The difference here in Northeast Ohio between standing at the bus stop at 6:30 a.m. and standing at the bus stop at 7 a.m. is huge," he said. "I would encourage anybody on a rainy morning or sleety morning in February to notice the difference. Because just having that sun out in the morning creates—not only do our kids get a little bit more sleep—it's just a lot safer for them to be standing outside at that time versus that earlier time.”
This year, Tallmadge started an hour earlier than Cleveland Heights-University Heights High School. Angelique Lipford is the district’s Liaison for Family and Community and says the extra time makes a noticeable difference.
“They have energy, and they're ready to go into their classes. They're smiling; they're not moving too slow. They're happy to see each other," Lipford said. "It's definitely different from my experience with students who had a 7:30 start, who come in very tired who are not necessarily smiling, who don't want to say good morning.”
Studying sleep patterns
That’s in line with what Dr. Gregory Omlor has found when reviewing two decades’ worth of research on the subject. He’s a pediatric pulmonologist with Akron Children's Hospital and says poor sleep for teens can have numerous side effects.
"Poor school performance, association with obesity, association with increased mood problems, depression, suicidal ideations, increased risk-taking behaviors, even increased accidents with automobiles,” he said.
Dr. Omlor says there are at least two other reasons later start times could benefit students. One is circadian rhythms, which are delayed in teens so they don't want to fall asleep until later.
“The other process that determines sleepiness is what's called sleep homeostasis. That's a very intuitive process, and it simply says that the longer you're awake, the more likely you are to fall asleep. And there's actually underlying physiological processes to regulate that," he said. "The longer we're awake, there's a chemical called adenosine that builds up in our brains, and adenosine makes us sleepy. And in teenagers, that takes a little bit longer to happen, or happen a little bit later in the day than it does for other ages so that they don't want to fall asleep until later in the evening or early morning compared to other people."
After school activities
One teen who would agree with him is my nephew, Nayan, a freshman at Hudson High School, which starts at 8 a.m.
“It's nice to have room in the morning if you need to make up something for a class, but it's also good to just sleep in sometimes,” he said.
But Nayan is on the track team and also in band. So I mentioned that a later start time could mean a later end time for the day and for practice.
“I think that’d be too late. That's why it's nice to get out earlier so I think probably I'd rather just get out at 3,” he said.
I brought this up with Tim Stried, spokesman for the Ohio High School Athletic Association. He says each school sets its own practice times, usually based on when facilities are available. But he did bring up one other issue with later school end times.
"The most common reason is because a lot of those students have a job they need to get to after school, which they work late afternoon and through the evening. So for the most part, from what I've gathered over the years, is that high schools want to start early and end around 2:30," he said.
But numerous studies over the past 15 years, from Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins, UCLA, and Stanford, say that teens aren’t getting enough sleep and require far more than was previously thought. One survey found that 87 percent of teenagers in America get less than the recommended 8-to-10 hours and that number is actually on the decline.