Home Academic information Melissa Ellis: Later start times are important for student well-being

Melissa Ellis: Later start times are important for student well-being


Starting next school year, Anne Arundel County public school schedules will be modified to align with recommendations from dozens of health and education organizations based on decades of scientific research on the impacts negatives of early start times on adolescent health and performance.

While young children need nine to 11 hours of sleep, they naturally fall asleep and wake up hours earlier than teenagers due to a change in circadian rhythm at the onset of puberty. Teenagers still need eight to ten hours of sleep to meet the needs of their developing bodies. Early start times have been shown to negatively impact teen grades, attendance, and even graduation rates; but above all, the physical and mental health of the students is threatened. Changing start times will not remove stress from students’ lives, but it will allow them to better handle the many stresses that can come with academic, social, and family pressures and circumstances. This is the only action that can be taken to have a positive impact on student well-being throughout the school system.

Now is the time to focus on student mental health. While there is nothing new or sudden in the board’s commitment to improving school hours, the need to address the mental health of our students has never been greater. The US Surgeon General has declared a mental health crisis for our country’s youth. When we have information about a large-scale solution to improving student health, we need to act on it. The Board of Education convened a task force in 2014 to study school hours, and the resulting recommendation was to adjust school hours for student welfare. That same year, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement urging school districts to aim for an earlier middle and high school start time of 8:30 a.m., citing dozens of studies showing health and safety impacts. students as well as studies. performance. To be clear, starting school before 8:30 a.m. is detrimental to our teenage students.

(Barbara Haddock Taylor/Capital Gazette File Photo)

We need to recognize the challenges this change will create on the schedules of many families. Most of us build our lives around our children, and making such a change can be difficult. Many families – some for the first time – will need after-school child care. Some parents will find relief in being able to see their elementary students leave before work, as we will no longer have elementary schools starting after 9:30 a.m. While we recognize that this may create challenges for some families, childcare children is the responsibility of the parents and not the responsibility of the teenagers in our community. For decades, we have placed the burden of school travel planning on the backs of our young people. Early Secondary School Hours were introduced in the 1980s as a way to save money on school transportation, not as a childcare solution. Either way, it’s up to the adults to sort out these scheduling issues. The council decided and announced this change in school hours in October 2021 to allow families enough time to plan. AACPS is planning an event to connect families with area child care providers.

Some question the impact on teenagers’ schedules, including athletics, jobs and internships. We know from the many school communities across the country that have implemented such change that communities are adapting and experiencing overall improvement. Better sleep for teenage athletes means better performance and fewer injuries. There are fewer car accidents in the morning. Many teenagers currently work late into the evening, which prevents them from going to bed earlier. For those wondering if teens will stay up later and not sleep more, studies show teens sleep more when school starts later.

Community involvement is essential to any major decision for our public schools. School community surveys were conducted in 2014 and 2019; both times, more parents saw a positive impact from starting secondary school later. The community rejected a 2015 superintendent’s proposal that elementary school start before 8 a.m.; he came with a price tag of $8 million. In December 2020, following a workshop to explore the opportunities and challenges of changing school hours, the board held a public hearing to receive feedback from the community. Support for this change was overwhelming with only one opposition. Many elementary school parents have explained the current difficulties their students are experiencing starting school hours after waking up.

Now is the time to do what we know is good for our children. It is the responsibility of the board as the representative of the community in the school system to always do what is in the best interests of our students. With the help of AACPS staff, other community leaders and parents, we can show our students how important their well-being is to all of us and successfully implement this crucial change like many school districts have done it before us.

Ellis is a member of the Anne Arundel County School Board.