By TEAGAN SO and BRIAN KIM
With school starting at as early as 7:00 a.m., teenagers are being forced to wake up in the middle of their deep sleep cycle, which, according to the Harvard Business Review, “is crucial for physical renewal, hormonal regulation, and growth…[for it is during this time when] the brain processes and synthesizes memories and emotions, activity that is crucial for learning and higher-level thought.” This leaves students mentally exhausted and disoriented before the school day even begins.
Scientists have discovered that starting the day later reduces behavioral problems and improves student performance across the board. It is now clear that public schools must take this information into account when designing their bell schedules. For instance, according to The Telegraph, Monkseaton High School in the United Kingdom discovered that pushing the bell schedule back one hour led to both a significant rise in grades and a severe drop in absenteeism. With the definite benefits that reforming the bell schedule can bring, perhaps it is time for University High School to also consider similar changes.
A later start time will not only be healthier for students, but also benefit teachers, staff and the administration. Teachers with young children, such as Mr. Mark Michalak (World Languages Dept.), will have an easier time handling family matters. “[Starting later] would definitely be a help to me as a parent. We are still waking up the kids at 6:20 a.m., and they’re one and four….As a parent, that’s a concern, and as a teacher, just trying to make sure that I’m prepared and have everything ready in time… it’s really tough,” Michalak said. According to Michalak, delaying the bell schedule will give more time to teachers to prepare for their classes before the day starts and more flexibility to work in the morning or after school.
In a poll of 71 UHS students, an overwhelming 77.7 percent wanted to start the bell schedule later. Of those, the majority supported moving the bell schedule back at least 30 minutes, and about 25.4 percent of those polled supported moving the schedule back an hour. However, those who disagreed with moving the bell schedule back cited extracurricular activities as the reason they wanted to keep the current bell schedule. When asked about how bell schedule changes might affect athletes, Dr. Kevin Astor (Admin.) said that “all athletic contests begin at the 3:15 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. point for the lower levels of competitive sports, and if a particular school was an outlier and classes went till 3:30 p.m., then [there would be] a huge portion of our and any other school’s population missing so much academic time, [which] could potentially have an adverse effect.”
It is not just athletic programs that could be adversely affected by any potential bell schedule changes. Mrs. Jennifer Moore (English Dept.) raised a common concern for parents. “I prefer my children to be home when it is dark and not driving, cycling, or walking home from extracurricular activities in the evening when streets are busier with commuters and not well lit,” Moore said. “It’s a safety concern.” These concerns are a legitimate source of worry that needs to be addressed by any major education policy change that is attempting to protect the health of students.
All of these well-founded skepticisms show that any change in bell schedules would require much more consideration than just pushing the school day an hour back. Mrs. Moore, for instance, said that she would not be a proponent for starting zero period at 8:00 a.m. instead of 7:00 a.m.. “If the desire was to begin later,” Moore said, “I would rather consider what schedule would allow for that and also meet the needs of both students and teachers. Different configurations of block scheduling, such as a rotating block, could meet students’ desires both to begin later and also take seven to eight classes a year.” For his part, Dr. Astor said believes that it would be impossible for a school to make such a change on its own “unless it did not run an athletic program.”
Reforming the bell schedule to allow students to sleep later would have clear health benefits for University High School’s community. This is especially true in a school with such a competitive and stressful atmosphere. However, this does not mean that changes do not require careful consideration that explore all possible effects of a schedule change.
Interestingly, there are signs that starting school later is the direction that our education system is moving towards. In April 2017, the California Senate Committee on Education passed SB-328, a bill that would make California the first state in the country to legally mandate public middle and high schools to start the school day at 8:30 a.m..
It is becoming readily apparent with new science that sleep is a key component of the development of teenagers, and the public education system is now beginning to act on that fact. This does not mean that schools can hurdle into these changes in the face of pre-existing educational models. There needs to be a way to protect the health of teens without creating other adverse consequences.