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Sunday, December 4, 2016

School Start Times

One of the most pressing concerns for the well being of our students is the lack of sleep that many of our teenagers are receiving.  The National Sleep Foundation has recently presented information following a two-year world-class study that our teenagers need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep per night.  Studies have shown that, on average, teenagers receive about 7.5 hours each night.
The reasons for these sleep needs are rooted in biology.  According to the coalition group School Start Later (http://www.startschoollater.net):
Sleep research shows that adolescents have a different—and later—sleep cycle than younger children and adults.  This is not a matter of habit, lifestyle, or stubbornness. It’s a matter of biology and natural circadian rhythms. The hormones that regulate sleep make it difficult for a typical teenager to fall asleep until after 11 pm and to wake up and be alert before around 8 am. Making them get up as early as 5:30 a.m. to catch the bus – right when they are in the deepest part of their sleep cycle - robs them of the deep sleep they need to grow and learn.
There are many possible implications for students who do not receive the proper amount of sleep. According to the School Start Later site:
Lack of sleep has serious repercussions on teenagers’ physical, mental and emotional health.  Sleep deprivation among teens is linked to depression, anxiety, susceptibility to illness and injury, irritability, car accidents, stunted growth, and even obesity and diabetes.  Researchers found that sleep deprivation in adolescents leads to increases in so-called risky behaviors, including substance abuse, suicide ideation, suicide attempts and suicide.  Sleep deprivation also lowers impulse control and reaction times (important for those driving).  Student athletes who do not get at least 8 hours of sleep per night are at greater risk of sports-related injuries – 2.3 times higher risk for each additional grade in school.  Lack of consistent sleep also negatively affects students’ ability to think and learn.
Our district has been exploring this topic in several ways.  Our Superintendent, Jon Bernard, has led the way in the Cape Ann League by hosting several conversational meetings with other district Superintendents about the possibility of changing the school start times.  There are many logistical considerations involved with a change of the school start times that would impact busing, athletic and extra-curricular activities, and other events in the communities.  These meetings and conversations are the first step in exploring the possibilities for adjusting school start times.
Our social and emotional committee P.A.U.S.E. (Public Awareness and Understanding of Social Education) and our Wellness committee has also been exploring this topic in greater detail over the past several months.  One team focused on the topic of sleep and has been lead by parent member Marci Bailey, Middle School Principal Cathy O’Connell, and Director of Pupil Personnel Services, Cynthia Conant.  I have also had the pleasure of working closely with this group to develop a survey that was shared with high school students in the spring of 2016.
 This survey contained questions about the sleep habits, stress-levels, and well-being of our high school students.  The results of the survey have been collected and analyzed by our team and we will be sharing the data with the high school faculty, students, and school committee in the near future.  We believe there are many things that each member of our school community (teachers, parents, students, administrators) can do to help our students and we hope that our presentation will advance that conversation among all stakeholders. 
In addition, we will be forming a School Start Times committee to look specifically at the benefits and concerns generated by adjusting the school start times.  Many of the logistical obstacles, including after-school jobs and child-care, need to be considered.  There are several districts who have overcome these challenges and we will be looking to those case-studies as we explore the best decision for North Reading.

More specific information about the school start times committee will be forthcoming, however if you have interest in participating please contact me via email at pdaly@nrpsk12.org at any time.

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