For the past few decades, education reform has been a hotly debated issue in the United States and, judging by the state of our public school system, it is obvious why. At this point, hardly anyone is denying that we could use a healthy dose of change. Unfortunately, as with many issues in our country today, we can easily point out the problems with the current system, but have a much more difficult time coming up with better alternatives. However, there is one particular aspect of the current education system that I do have a strong opinion on and a viable alternative to — the timing of the school day.
When I attended high school, the first bell of the day rang at 7:25 a.m., which meant if you weren’t in your first period class by 7:30 a.m., you were marked down as “late.” Too many of those late marks, and you were likely to be punished, flunked out of the class or maybe even suspended. 7:30 a.m. may not seem like an unreasonable time to start the day, but one has to think about the morning routine of the respective student. Taking into consideration waking up, eating breakfast, driving to school and finding a parking space, I had to get up at 6 a.m. every school day in order to get there on time. Some students even had mandatory zero periods, which started at 6:30 a.m. Even worse, students who had the misfortune of living far from the school had to ride the bus every morning, a trip that could take up to an hour. In short, it was not unusual to hear my exhausted friends complaining about having to wake up at 5:30 or even 5 a.m. — an unreasonable time to ask anyone, let alone a high school student, to start his or her daily routine.
The idea to push the start of the school day back is not just a speculative suggestion on my part; the benefits have been backed again and again by hard scientific research. At Brown University in the 1990s, a team of sleep researchers came to the conclusion that the current state of our public school’s early schedule causes most students to suffer from sleep deprivation, “the consequences of [which] are severe, impacting adolescents’ physical and mental health, as well as daytime functioning.” They recommended that, at the earliest, school should begin at 8:30 a.m., if not 9 a.m. Anything later than that is probably pushing it, but considering the work day of the average adult starts at 9 a.m., why should we force our youth to start their day hours before that, especially since their growing bodies require more sleep?
Of course, given this extra time, will teens actually use it to sleep? Admittedly, some probably will not. Regardless of what time the school day starts, some kids are just bound to stay up late into the night. However, most students will utilize this time for what they feel they need most — sleep. The body has its own natural rhythms that coincide with the time of day, and giving the body even just an extra hour of rest can be very beneficial.
Perhaps the best part of this plan is that it doesn’t necessarily require any extra funds or labor, just a simple change in schedule. And though these are probably outliers, some schools even reported saving thousands after they made the switch to starting later, due to higher attendance rates and savings in transportation costs.
With so many problems in the school system tied up in money and politics, it seems as though pushing back the start of the school day and extending its end time further into the evening is one of the few, relatively easy steps we can take towards bettering our educations. Being tired isn’t just annoying — it’s downright unhealthy and can be very damaging to both our minds and bodies. Not to mention, exhausted students, it should go without saying, are considerably less productive than well-rested ones. Having a good night’s rest could not only help our students feel healthier, more motivated and more attentive, it could potentially raise our nation’s exam scores — something we desperately need considering how far we have fallen behind other nations in the past few years. It seems difficult, therefore, to justify keeping our students in a perpetual state of exhaustion when the solution is right in front of us.
Jay Grafft really needs his beauty sleep.