Commentary: Insist on later high school start in Newton

Families in Newton are beginning to understand how serious sleep deprivation is for our teens, and what a start time change might mean for them:

“High school is a time of enormous learning and growth, but as we have seen in Newton and other communities around the country, these years can also lead to vulnerability and stress in our students. When we ask ourselves what we can do, as parents and as a community, to best support teens during their high school years starting school later in the morning is one of the obvious answers. The scientific evidence demonstrates without a doubt that adjusting school start times benefits students physically, intellectually and emotionally.

Teens need an average of 9.5 hours of sleep per night, but they get, on average, less than seven hours. Study after study has shown that when schools start later, students are more awake during the day, better able to focus on learning, and better able to handle the stress and emotions of adolescence. Research has even shown a reduction in car accidents by teen drivers when they’ve been able to sleep later. In addition, student athletes are almost twice as likely to be injured when they get less than eight hours of sleep. A common argument that we hear is that, if school starts later, teens will just stay up later at night and get the same amount of sleep. Research and adolescent biology does not support that argument. By starting school later, teens can sleep at times that are more aligned with their natural body clocks, instead of fighting against nature to fall asleep and rise earlier.

We understand that in a large district like Newton, a change in school start time affects many other aspects of the school day for students, teachers, parents and the community at large. The recent survey by the Newton Public Schools focused on understanding how changes to the school day may affect early morning and afternoon routines for school families. These effects, however, need to be weighed against the best interests of our children. The inconveniences of a new routine — something many are quick to point out — would be quickly outweighed by improved physical and emotional health and learning. New routines are uncomfortable at first, but by mid-year, most families will have adjusted to the new routines. This is the experience of the hundreds of school districts nationwide that have moved their start time.”

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