Framingham, MA: A smarter start to the school day

Framingham, Massachusetts joins many other communities around the state in examining a change in school start time.

Education policy can be esoteric, but some ideas are simple, like making sure students’ brains are well rested and ready to learn when the school day starts.

Medical science has given educators the information they need to schedule classes wisely. Students need 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep each night, experts say, and an early bedtime isn’t enough, especially for adolescents. Sleep researchers say chemicals governing teenagers’ brains won’t let them sleep before 11 p.m. or later. Those brains aren’t ready to function until 8:30 a.m. – a full hour or more after most high school classes begin. Try absorbing algebra or analyzing Shakespeare when you’re still half-asleep.

Years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a recommendation that middle and high schools start classes later to reduce stress and illness related to sleep deprivation. As schools across the country have experimented with later school start times, evidence has grown that it can make a difference in many areas. Nauset Regional High School on Cape Cod, for instance, saw a steep drop in tardiness, low grades, discipline problems and student stress after moving its school start time to 8:35 a.m. Districts even report fewer car accidents, arrests and mental health crises after adjusting the school schedule.

But changing people’s routines is hard, and there has been plenty of resistance. Administrators worry about the expense and inconvenience of rearranging bus routes. Parents worry about the effect a later day would have on their schedules, and their kids’ athletic activities and after-school jobs. Many school districts have considered the issue in recent years, and most have backed off, including several here in MetroWest.

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