by Sharlyn Petit
Today, most Seattle high schools and middle schools start at 7:50 a.m. and end at 2:20 p.m. Elementary schools start between 8:40 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. and end between 2:50 p.m. and 3:40 p.m. That means sleep-deprived teens are dragging themselves out of bed and onto our roadways at times earlier than some adults wake up.
But sleepy Seattle teens could soon be setting their alarm clocks for an hour later. A newly formed Bell Advisory Task Force is set to analyze the impacts and issues of later start times for Seattle Public Schools. They’ll provide recommendations to Superintendent Larry Nyland, and the school board will have the final vote.
KING-5 reported earlier this year that one scenario could swap bell times between elementary and high schools, costing more than $15 million. Costs are primarily tied to transportation efficiencies in adjusting bus routes. Before- and after-school programs, staff contracts, and family schedules are also factors.
Advocates for the change say that sleep patterns, overall health, and maximizing learning opportunities are all reasons to support later start times. A later start time for teens would align schedules better with their biological clocks.
Dr. Maida Chen, director of Pediatric Sleep Disorders Center at Seattle Children’s, says kids don’t recognize the feelings of sleep deprivation in the same way adults do, and getting enough sleep is just as important to development as a balanced diet. She encourages parents and kids to discuss healthy sleep habits, set media curfews for electronics, and limit caffeine consumption and sleeping in on the weekend.
In my high school days, my first 7:50 a.m. class was always one of two options: band or calculus. How I ever gathered enough energy to practice pep tunes or manipulate the quadratic equation is beyond me. The fact that it just now took me five minutes to remember the term “quadratic equation” means nothing’s sticking before 9 a.m. anyway. Plus, with a few extra winks, I could have avoided totaling my first car.
Teens, don’t get your hopes up for rolling to school a little later come September. Any resulting changes made from the task force’s findings won’t take effect until the 2016-2017 school year at the earliest.
Read more about Seattle Children’s pediatric sleep research here.