published Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Kids, sleep and school

Youngsters standing at school bus stops before 6 a.m. and sitting in class before 7:30 a.m. are common sights in Hamilton County and in other school districts in the region and across the country. That early-to-rise and early-to-learn schedule, though, is based more on convenience and economics than sound educational or health principles. If school officials don't know that, a series of talks here last week by Mary Carskadon, a noted biobehaviorial scientist and sleep expert, should remind them of the important role sleep plays in youngsters' lives, especially in the teen years.

Most educators probably do know that most adolescents and teens need more sleep than they get. It's just that they have little control over starting times and bus routes that play a major role in determining when a school day begins and when it ends. The result is that lots of kids who should be asleep at 6 in the morning are standing at a bus stop at that time, or even earlier. That's certainly true in Hamilton County and other districts.

Most local high school and middle school students begin their academic day at 7:15 a.m. Some of those students re picked up between 5:45 and 5:55 a.m. That's early and sometimes requires a long time on the bus or a long wait at school before classes begin, but they have little choice. They bus that takes them to school usually has another or two other routes to run before the school day begins. That might make economic sense, but the timing makes it difficult for them to partake fully in the academic process.

Educators and health experts generally agree that adolescents and teens need more sleep -- 9 hours -- than they typically get -- 7 hours -- and that they naturally fall asleep later and get up later than younger kids. Still, many school systems require teens to start school early in the morning and set later times for elementary students.

The answer, then, is to change school start times and to adjust bus routes and times. That's easier said than done. Tight budgets make it necessary to operate buses economically. That often requires one driver to make three separate runs before classes commence. That can save money, but at a cost.

Carskadon says depriving teens of sleep can prompt a variety of educational, behavioral and development issues. She's got the research to prove it. The answer, then, is to rearrange school schedules to match the natural rhythms of youngsters' lives. That means shifting school start times so elementary kids, who do well early in the day, arrive first, and older kids, who do better in the late morning and afternoon, get there later. That's easier said than done, given monetary and transportation consideration.

Such change won't be easy or cheap, But if later start times allow older kids to get more sleep and that, in turn, leads to improved student academic performance and behavior, the investment of time and money will be worthwhile.

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yaffay said...

School systems continue to ignore the years of research reflecting the negative impact of early school start times on teenagers. School system officials, especially in Hamilton County, are unwilling to tamper with the sacred bus schedule. Transportation to and from school is a parental responsibility, not one that should be taken on by educators. Students who need a ride can pay a fee. Those who can't afford it can have a subsidy much live the free and reduced school lunch option. Systems would still save millions of dollars in transportation expenses while allowing flexibile start times.

April 2, 2012 at 9:57 a.m.
jjmez said...

Public schools in America are sorely outdated. In these modern times where both parents are working to make ends meet, I think schools could operate pretty much on a college type schedule. There could be both morning, afternoon and evening classes. Students could better schedule their classes more around other activities. They could schedule them back to back or space with 1 hr or more in between classes. There could still be other extracuricular activities they could be a part of, such as sports, musical and other type creative courses if they so choose. This would of course apply to students beyond the primary grades.

Chattanooga School For The Arts & Sciences has always had a flex schedule to better meet the needs of working parents and to avoid students being charged with tardiness. The uproar only came when schools like Howard and Brainerd sought to schedule their classes to fit the needs of the community and families they serve.

April 2, 2012 at 3:17 p.m.
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