By Susan Macdonald
On the morning of Dec. 1, I was the performing the usual hassle of getting the children out of bed and ready for school.
Multiple wake-up calls, nagging people to get out from under the nice warm covers and get dressed, sending them off to school unfed because they took so long to get ready that they didn’t have time for breakfast before the bus came – the usual.
Things weren’t easier on Monday, Dec. 1.
That morning, some parts of Millington had a power outage and school started two hours later.
My son caught the bus just before 8, instead of at 5:55. It was actually his second time on the bus that day, since he’d already been on the bus when the news of the delay came.
He came home, went back to bed to take a nap, and went to school well-rested instead of only half-awake. My daughter, two and half years younger than my son, was able to prepare for school in a leisurely fashion, dressing without nagging, eating breakfast, and going to school bright and alert, not sullen and half-asleep. As she went off to school at 8:30, I rejoiced at how much easier it had been to get them off to school than usual.
I wondered if it would be possible for them to go to school at that time every day.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that high schools and middle schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
Millington Central High School and Millington Middle School both start at 7 a.m., a full hour and a half earlier than that recommendation. Parents in Germantown are trying to have their schools start later. Perhaps parents in Millington should do the same.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 14 percent of public high schools currently meet the 8:30 guideline. However, less than 10 percent of high schools in the United States start as early as Millington and Germantown do. Teenagers are growing and changing. Their sleep patterns are changing, too. It’s not that they’re lazy, their circadian rhythms are physically changing. Because of changes in their circadian rhythms, their sleep-wake cycle, most adolescents get their best sleep between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m.
Yet teenagers need as much sleep as younger children do. As a result, millions of teenagers across the country are sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation affects not only attitude (as any parent of a teenager knows), but health, especially obesity, immune systems and depression. High schools and middle schools that start later in the day have less tardiness, fewer absences, fewer fights and higher test scores. Students pay more attention. Teenage drivers that start school later have fewer traffic accidents.
Dr. Mary Carskadon, a psychiatry professor at Brown University, explained, “Even without the pressure of biological changes, if we combine an early school starting time — say 7:30 a.m., which, with a modest commute, makes 6:15 a.m. a viable rising time —with our knowledge that optimal sleep need is 9 and fourth hours. We are asking that 16-year olds go to bed at 9 p.m. Rare is a teenager that will keep such a schedule. School work, sports practices, clubs, volunteer work, and paid employment take precedence. When biological changes are factored in, the ability even to have merely ‘adequate’ sleep is lost.” Millington Central High School starts at 7, and my son’s bus comes anywhere between 5:55 and 6:10. And my son isn’t the first kid on his bus.
7 a.m. to 2 p.m. has the advantage of the kids getting out of school early, with more time to do homework, go to practice or after-school jobs.
It also means that students wait for the bus before sunrise, come home to be latchkey children, and aren’t really awake until second or third period. 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. provides a compromise, but still starts earlier than the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. 9 a. m. to 4 p.m. lets students get a full night’s sleep, but means students aren’t home until nearly dinner time – later if they have clubs or practice after school.
There is no perfect schedule. (Dear Millington School Board Members, please ignore my children’s suggestions that school go from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with an hour lunch break.) But now that we have our own district, maybe it’s time for Millington parents to seriously consider the best compromise to find a schedule that will work for us and our children.
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