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Foss: High school should start later

Foss: High school should start later

Foss: High school should start later
Photographer: Shutterstock

When I was in high school, I got up every morning at 6:30 a.m., took a shower, ate some cereal, got on the bus and arrived at school shortly before 8 a.m. 

It was an exhausting schedule, or so I thought at the time. 

I yawned my way through my first-period class, as did many of my friends. At the time, I chalked our weariness up to adolescence -- to the fact that teenagers like to sleep late. 

Turns out, I was right to blame my sleepiness on being a teenager. 

Teenagers are naturally hard-wired to stay up later than younger children and to sleep later, too. But school starts early, which means many teens aren't getting enough sleep. 

A number of organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, have recommended later start times for middle and high school, but few districts have made the change. 

One district that might: Niskayuna. 

Last week a panel comprised of parents, students and teachers recommended that the start time at Niskayuna High School be pushed back to 8:30 a.m. 

It's a change that's long overdue -- not just in Niskayuna, but everywhere. 

A growing body of research suggests that teens will benefit from a later school start time. They'll be more rested, which will lead to better moods and better educational outcomes. Hard as it might be to believe, teenagers aren't just grouchy because they're teenagers. They're grouchy, in part, because they're not getting enough sleep. 

If schools have been reluctant to shift their schedules to better accommodate their sleepy teenagers, it's because institutions tend to be resistant to change, and the logistical problems that are likely to result. 

One district that has changed is Schenectady, where high school and middle school start at 8:30 a.m. 

"It's generally better for kids," Larry Spring, superintendent of the Schenectady City School District, told me. "My hunch is that going to that later start time has enabled those kids to get a little more sleep." He added that it has probably contributed to improved attendance, as well. 

Spring said the change in start time hasn't been without headaches. 

One has been scheduling events, such as athletic contests, with other districts. 

"We're the odd man out in terms of scheduling," Spring said. "Other schools get impatient when we show up late." 

The other big challenge has been supervision. 

The change in school start time for Schenectady's middle and high schoolers coincided with a change at the elementary school level: 

The city's younger students start school at 7:30 a.m. and are out at 2:30 a.m. This earlier dismissal time has been difficult for parents, many of whom are something more akin to a 9-5 schedule, and exposed a need for more after-school programming. 

My takeaway: Moving to a later start time isn't easy, and the transition won't necessarily be seamless. 

But it's very doable, and the case for doing it is strong. 

Districts that are considering a later start time should make the change. 

And districts that aren't considering a later start time should consider it. 

Trust me, the nation's cranky and sleep-deprived teenagers will thank you. 

Reach Sara Foss at sfoss@dailygazette.net. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.

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