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The Great Debate: Should High School start later?

May 13, 2022

Recent legislation introduced in New Jersey suggests that no school should start earlier than 8:30 A.M. The goal of this change would be to allow students more time to sleep, thus improving their mental health and overall mood. However, some parents and students worry about the possible ramifications of this change. Two students debate this controversial topic, attempting to answer the question: should schools tart times become later?

Against change

A bill introduced to New Jersey legislation in March 2022 suggests schools in the state adjust start times to no earlier than 8:30 A.M. The goal of this bill would be to allow students additional time to get more sleep and promote overall wellness of students.

While these goals are of course something all schools should aim for, there are better ways to go about rather than completely altering the schedule students are accustomed to.

Most New Jersey high school students begin school between 7:20 and 7:40 A.M, resulting in most schools dismissing prior to 3:00 P.M. Naturally, students have become acclimated to this schedule over the many years it has been in place.

Students base many aspects of their life around this schedule, most particularly students who work after school. Research concludes that around thirty percent of high school students work, meaning this would largely impact a great portion of BHS students.

As BHS is conveniently located in the center of town, surrounded by plenty of businesses, many students are able to walk or drive to work directly following school. Were school hours to be adjusted, these working students schedules would also have to be altered, accounting for the additional hour or more spent in school during the afternoon.

For some of the town’s small businesses, this could make a huge difference. For some students, it may completely throw off their typical work schedules, and present great issues for all parties involved.

For students who work outside of Bernardsville, this issue is exaggerated even more so, as it already requires additional time to travel from out of town, meaning they’d be arriving to work later- either working later hours to compensate or losing time they could have been getting paid for.

It is clear that these altered schedules will impact students’ lives outside of school, but it also presents challenges for after school activities, especially sports.

While if the entire state moves to later start, it seems there won’t be an issue coordinating games with opposing schools teams, however it actually introduces a plethora of new complications.

The first issue being, as afternoon practices stretch later and later into the evening, sunlight is lost- especially in the winter. For outdoor sports, this limits the ability to practice and play.

Assistant Principal Mr. Hoppe states, “Without a lit field, it would impact sub-varsity games. Everyone thinks that we have lights that we can roll out, but our lights are substandard for field hockey and boys lacrosse. We actually aren’t allowed to use our lights for those sports at the state level- the visibility isn’t what it should be.”

Another thing to be considered would be clashing schedules between school organized sports and town-wide programs. Mr. Hoppe says, “there’s going to be a conflict between high school athletic programs and town athletic programs, for kids who are playing in both, that would be a problem, something would have to give.”

This means that students’ abilities to participate in multiple sports, programs, or after school activities will actually become more limited than it was when operating on the usual schedule, counteracting the intended goal of giving students more time to relax or look after themselves.

 Especially given that high school students’ days will end up extended to make up for time they lose after school. Students may fall into the cyclical pattern,  led to believe that since school starts later, they can work later, practice later, study later, go to bed later. For this reason, the idea of pushing back start times can become a slippery slope. Once pushed back, students can and will find a way to remain tired while at school.

Moreover, transportation will become even more complicated in organizing. Throughout the past couple of years New Jersey has already been facing staff shortages, and schools have seen this manifest as a severe shortage of bus drivers.

If the high school were to start later, Mr. Hoppe clarifies how this would impact transportation, “Most people don’t realize that our buses run the high school and the middle school, then they do the elementary runs. So if we’re gonna start high school an hour earlier (similar to Bedwell) we’re gonna need another bus run. There’s already a shortage of bus drivers- so it’s gonna cost our taxpayers a lot of money.”

With all of these complications to consider, it is important to understand that while the intention of this legislation is to help high school students, it will have unintended consequences that do the exact opposite of what it had originally intended to accomplish. School start times should remain how they are, as pushing them back after years of being previously established will only further complicate students’ already busy schedules and lives.

 

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For change

One of the pondering questions every school year seems to be whether or not school districts around the country should push back their current schools start time to after 8:00 am. This conversation sparked when a bill was introduced to the New Jersey Legislation in March 2022 proposing to push back school start times after 8:30 am.

Despite the concerns of a start time after 8:00 am due to sports practices and game times being delayed along with after school clubs, a change in the schools start time would increase the cumulative performance of students.

Waking up early as an adolescent means you’re often waking up before the sun goes up. Scientists have found that teenagers waking up before the crack of dawn is not beneficial to one’s health. Scientists have found the “social jetlag” difference in which students have to wake up and when their body’s would naturally wake up. Sleep expert Dr. Maree Barnes believes that “when the sun comes up in the morning, the light turns off or suppresses melatonin” which concludes that “the naturally occurring body hormone which helps us go to sleep.” If students wake up in daylight, Dr. Barnes says that the melatonin is “switched off,” and that “our cortisol is switched on, which physically keeps us awake.”

Effective and efficient sleep times for adolescents gives the body more time to restore itself, and reduce overall daytime sleepiness. A start time past 8:30am may allow students to have extra time for breakfast, which can be crucial to teenagers over growth and health. Students may be running late to school, eliminating the necessary time to sit and eat before the school day begins. With a bad habit like this for most teens, this leaves students hungry for a majority of the school day, making it increasingly difficult to concentrate in class. National studies have shown that “approximately 60 percent of high school students skip breakfast each morning and 14 percent of them do not eat the meal most or all days of the week” (sph.umn.edu). 

Along with more time to eat breakfast could lead to a decrease in students’ tardiness. Tired students are more inclined to skip and or show up late to school, leading to more absences and learning loss. An altered school schedule would allow students to sleep in and arrive at school on time.

Moving the school start time past 8:00 am would be a major change in academic success. Implementing a later start time gives students the opportunity to sleep in longer and wake up well-rested, better prepared to take on a 7-hour school day. Allowing students and staff to get the proper sleep they need, everyone becomes more productive. Students who get the proper amount of sleep are less likely to fall asleep in class, and more capable of retaining the information being taught.

Principal Dr. Neigel understands that “most of the research up to this point tends to say that delaying school start times leads to more sleep for students, and thus better academic performance.” A later start time will show an increase in decision making and concentration, making it easier to retain information being taught in the classroom. 

A study conducted in 2018 found that “school districts who pushed start times from 7:50 am to 8:45 am had students getting slightly higher grades than they were before the change. Students who sleep enough have improved grades in their first-period core classes, higher graduation rates, and increased standardized test scores” (sleepjunkie.com). 

Dr. Neigel says that “some school districts, like Seattle, have already seen positive results by delaying high school start times.” Adding that, “if [we] trust the research, which I do, I think it would be a positive step for student’s health and subsequently, their academic performance.”

With all the positive benefits that come with an 8:30 am start time, there’s a lot the Somerset Hills School district would need to adjust in order to make this happen. A later start time would push back practices and games, along with clubs and administration meetings. A majority of Bernards High School sports practices begin at 3:00 pm, so with an adjusted start time, practices may begin later in the afternoon.

When asking Dr. Neigel about what an 8:30 am start time may do to the overall school schedule, he says that “there are significant issues that school districts would need to address in order to make it happen, primarily district bussing, the impact on elementary schools, and athletic schedules,” but highlighting that “anything is possible.”

As the Somerset Hills School District waits to see if this school start time bill will be passed, Dr. Neigel says that “[I] am very interested to see what happens and how it impacts BHS.”

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