I’ve been wanting to write a post on this topic, mostly just because I find it an interesting conversation for discussion. I think it’s been a hot topic nationwide in recent years.
This year, our local public school district decided to make a big shift in the start times, causing the elementary kids to start earlier and the high school kids to start later.
The primary reason for this was to allow middle and high school aged kids (teenagers) to sleep in longer, better aligning with their natural sleep patterns. (I’m no sleep expert, but apparently teenagers are basically wired to stay up later/ sleep in later.) Research says that later start times for high school are linked to better grades, better attendance, better behavior, fewer traffic accidents and better overall mental health.
Previously, our district’s times were:
- elementary 8:20- 3:18
- middle 7:40- 2:56
- high 8:00- 3:22
The new times this year are:
- elementary 7:40-2:40
- middle 8:25-3:25
- high 8:35- 3:45
Keep in mind, these are the BELL times- like, butt in seat in your classroom time. So the kids are bussing/ driving to school quite a bit before these times.
Anyway, of course, with any big change comes a lot of debate. I was not personally involved in any of the task force meetings, and I’ll admit I didn’t even follow the topic too closely. My kids don’t currently go to one of our public schools, but the public changes affected my kids’ K-8 school times, too (in part due to bussing issues- they HAVE to stagger the start times in town to spread the bus drivers around). In our case, it meant we had to shift to the earlier (7:40- 2:40) schedule this year. (Even though my kids are middle schoolers…. but our school is a K-8. So more elementary than not.)
The “word on the street” (that I’ve heard from older swim families, etc.) is that there are a lot of mixed feelings. On the one hand, I think everyone agrees that more sleep = good. But it seems there is concern that many kids will basically just end up staying up later, meaning no extra sleep, anyway. (Though one could argue that even if total hours of sleep are the same, if the sleep schedule is more in line with their natural, physical rhythm, it could still be a better thing.) Some parents don’t like that they’ll need to leave for work before their teen is maybe even awake now!
Other concerns (for the older kids) involve extracurriculars. This is a big one I’ve heard a lot. If the kids aren’t even released until 3:45, sports practices and clubs can’t start until at least like 4:00….. Not to mention weekday “away” games that require bus travel, etc. – everything gets pushed even later into the evening, theoretically. Also, some kids have after school jobs, and the later time makes it harder to fit that in + homework, showers, etc. in a shorter evening window.
One interesting thing I’ve heard lately is that some clubs/ sports are opting to instead use the “extra” time in the morning to have practices before school…. but that makes me ask: Doesn’t that then totally defeat the purpose of moving the start time later in the first place?? I will also say, I’ve seen a good number of high school kids up and at the gym around ~7/7:30 a.m. before school these last couple weeks. I suppose people are free to do whatever they want, but I kind of hope there won’t be a huge trend to move too many “required” activities to before school. Just feels counterproductive to the whole idea of trying to allow the kids more sleep (and avoid early mornings in general)! But if your team practices early, how do you really just opt out? (Although, I can totally see the advantages to wanting to squeeze things in early, to free up the evenings.)
Then, of course, all of this affects the little ones- who now start much earlier than before. The reasoning here is that little kids naturally go to bed earlier and wake earlier, so it’s more in line with their needs (plus, the need to spread the bus drivers out). There’s no shortage of pros/cons on this side either.
Some issues I’ve heard involve:
- bus times being super early (meaning in the winter, kids could be waiting for bus in the dark…)
- issues with after school care (bigger gap to fill for working parents)
- earlier mornings NOT great for some younger kids who don’t like mornings/ have trouble going to bed at night
- issues with getting kids off to school so early/ work issues (I feel like no matter what time school starts, it’s never going to be perfect for working parents…. so hard.)
- concerns about extracurriculars and club end times
And probably other things, but like I said, I haven’t been too involved. I am sure some families love the earlier end time- I can see how it would allow a more relaxed afternoon/ evening. More time for extracurriculars, homework, family dinner, etc. without needing to rush as much to get to bed on time.
Anyway! I feel generally indifferent to it, at the moment… I personally kind of like our earlier start time (selfishly), because it gets the kids off and out of the house earlier- allowing me to get my own day started earlier! I don’t love that the boys have to get up by 6:30 or so now, though. Last year they slept until almost 7:15! But I’m lucky in that my job is flexible and I work from home, so for the most part, we can make either time work.
I think that based on what I know about the topic, it does seem that the later time for older kids seems to be the better option overall…. being tired is so hard! High school is challenging, and if you’re dozing off in class, well, it’s just not good. But I think it’s a pretty complex topic, and I can also appreciate the various pros and cons on all sides.
What do you think? Any opinions on school start times?
I am grateful for some cooler fall temps moving in! I love the warm weather, but always welcome fall, too.