Raising National Awareness of Early High School Start Times

Greenfield resident Dolores Skowronek discusses her work with Start School Later and writes about their efforts to raise national awareness of the consequences of early high school start times.

I’ve been pretty quiet about the early start time at Greenfield High School lately. Not because I’ve lost interest – but because I’ve been busy working to raise national awareness of the consequences of early high school start times.

In November 2011, I joined forces with several concerned parents from Florida, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington to form the steering committee of Start School Later. We are a not-for-profit, all volunteer national coalition advocating for safe and healthy start times in our nation’s public schools. We have made progress these past few months and currently have members in 19 states and an Advisory Board of experts from respected institutions including the Harvard Medical School and the University of California, Berkeley.

While I’m still deeply concerned about Greenfield’s 7:10 start time (among the earliest in the United States) I now realize that districts routinely implement start time policies with no regard for the health and safety of our children. When it comes to these types of decisions, all of the 13,629 public school districts in the United States will not consistently do the right thing. Efforts to change start times in many communities will always be ineffective when politics and myths trump student health and well-being. That’s why I’m working with Start School Later.

Advocating for national change has been difficult but I’m happy to say that we are making baby steps in the right direction. For example, this week several of our members are meeting with Dr. Anne Mathews-Younes, Director of the Division of Prevention, Traumatic Stress and Special Programs, and Dr. Richard McKeon, Director of the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). SAMHSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and is increasingly recognizing the importance sleep plays in the health and wellness of young people. The scientific research regarding adolescent sleep, the link between early start times and mental health, and the need for large scale policy change will be among the topics discussed.

Our goals are ambitious, but I’m optimistic. Early high school start times impact the health of countless children nationwide. Someday, the decisions makers in DC will recognize that waking at 5:30 to catch a school bus and beginning school in the 7 o’clock hour is incompatible with an adolescent’s health, safety, and ability for optimum academic achievement. In the meantime, we will continue to advocate for change and work to raise national awareness of this important public health issue.

For Patch readers not yet familiar with the consequences of early start times and sleep loss in teens, Start School Later co-founder Dr. Terra Ziporyn Snider recently had an article published in Education Week. She does a great job of describing the start time issue and addresses the obstacles that many good parents encounter when trying to change local policies.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Lee August 30, 2012 at 02:57 PM
You may be right to a degree, Steve, but what you fail to grasp is that sleep quality is not just about hours, it is also about time of day and how the time of day impacts hormone levels. For the typical teen, sleep in the early morning hours is more likely, restful, and restorative, than sleep later at night due to the interplay btwn hormones and time of day. That's why even when a teen dutifuly commits to lights out by 9 or 10pm or even later, they toss and turn, remaining wide awake, in spite of their best efforts.
Lee August 30, 2012 at 03:04 PM
well, Steve, a parent might be able to go in and confiscate every gadget, book, game, or possible "distraction" a kid might face at bed time, however the one thing no parent can do: regulate hormones of said kid. Steve, science has you beat on this topic. Not to say that there aren't outlier teens who are natural early risers or that there aren't kids who manage to square-peg-into-round-hole style force themselves to get up before dawn and get great grades, but for the majority of humans in this particular stage of development, the early to bed, early to rise approach is in complete conflict with their physiological reality.
Dolores Skowronek August 30, 2012 at 10:52 PM
Lee, thank you for your comments. I appreciate it. You obviously understand this issue really well, and I agree with you 100%
Lee August 31, 2012 at 02:09 AM
You are quite welcome, Dolores! So happy to find that this website exists. We need posters like CowDung and Steve. It provides an opportunity to explain that, generally speaking, teens who are asleep at their desks at dawn are not lazy, stubborn brats who simply refuse to get to sleep by a particular hour. Instead, they are quite at the mercy of their rapidly developing brains and wildly fluctuating, ever increasing levels of hormones. It alters their internal clock in such a way that makes starting school as early as most do disruptive to disastrous. The flatliners who far too often populate public school administrations and snarky, closeminded adults who would rather negatively characterize teens instead of grasping science make this whole issue an uphill battle.
Dolores Skowronek September 05, 2012 at 09:42 PM
For more information on the start time issue, please see my latest blog: http://greenfield.patch.com/blog_posts/school-start-times-and-healthy-people-2020


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