Cheltenham parents asking for later school start

two elementary school kids walking into a suburban schoolThis may come as a shock to most of you, but some of us Townies didn’t grow up here. While my family has long historical roots in Haverford Township, I didn’t move here until 14 years ago. One thing I loved about HT is the walkability of it (walkscore.com gives the 19083 an outstanding score of 71 out of 100). I grew up in the Poconos where we had to catch a school bus around 6:30 am to get to school by 8:15. That’s a very long commute and a brutal rise time, not just for high school but for all 12 years because we attended the catholic school. When I see kids walking to school in the morning, I get flashbacks of seeing re-runs of Happy Days and the Brady Bunch. As far as I knew, only Hollywood had kids that walked to school!

But even without those very lengthy bus rides to school, the HT school day still begins earlier than most of us are leaving for work in the morning. I never saw the logic in this. If anything, we could consider at least flipping the start times. The young kids could start at 7:35, as they naturally rise earlier, and the older ones could start at 8:35 or later. After-school activities can become before-school activities for those who are interested. These flipped times correspond better with decades of adolescent psychology and neurology research.

Greater Philadelphia area Cheltenham school district is being challenged over the early starts. From CBSnewslocal:

CHELTENHAM, Pa. (CBS) – The conversation is still in the very earliest stages, but some parents in a Montgomery County school district are considering asking administrators to change the start time for their high school.

Rhonda Feder’s daughter is in 10th grade at Cheltenham High School. Class starts at 7:30. She can’t help but wonder whether her school work is affected because she and other teens may be sleep deprived.

Feder started a Facebook page to get input from other parents and says the research is out there that shows a later start date would be beneficial to students.

“Well they’re saying that teenagers are in a unique phase of life developmentally. It’s post puberty where their bodies simply are on a different rhythm,” Feder said. “A different clock when they were younger.”

Many teens don’t get to bed until eleven o’clock or later and not because they’re distracted by school work or their electronic devices. She admits there are challenges with a later start time like bus runs and after school athletic schedules. The National Sleep Foundation says about 80 districts across the country have made the change.

 

Before you bring up the sports argument, see what the above-mentioned National Sleep Foundation found in its research of schools that have flipped the start times (between elementary and high school) or delayed all start times:

“…most districts that have changed their start time have experienced few problems with regard to athletics. Practice times are rescheduled, and in some cases lights are installed so practice can run a little later. Match times are changed so that students do not have to leave class early. Many districts have even seen increased participation in sports (Edina, MN) and improved performance by their teams (Wilton, CT; Nathan Hale, Seattle, WA). Research has shown that sleep deprivation has a severe negative impact on coordination and endurance, so it makes sense that better rested student athletes would perform better.”

There are a lot of pros to the later-start argument, not all of them having to do with biology. Unsupervised hours for teens are a problem. If we have classroom time until 4 or 5 then the coordination of adult work schedules and teen schedules works a bit better. Of course, I can already hear the protests of parents who are afraid their children would even get to school ever if they weren’t there to shove them out the door in the morning. Still, I think a flipped system could work just as well if not better than the current one. There would be more supervised and un-grouped hours for teens. We can pretty much guarantee they won’t be loitering around WAWA causing trouble at 8 in the morning. Anyway, the pros and cons can be talked about, at least. With my background in Psychology (M.Ed. Educational Psych, Temple U. BS Psychology, U of Pitt) I’m a strong advocate for the later start times for adolescents. It’s worth a look. Let’s keep an eye on what happens in Cheltenham and research the other school districts in the US who are making later start times work.

What have the parents in this township suggested before? Would we have to get the whole of Delco to flip start times, for sports contests? What has been the resistance in the past? Let us know in the comments or over on the Havertownies Facebook post.

More information about a national movement about later school start times just came to us via our Twitter account. Check out Start School Later. Our friend and fellow Townie Gretchen S. just linked us on Facebook to a recent NPR piece about this.

Comments

  1. Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D. says:

    School start time is a national concern, particularly given the compelling evidence we now have that early start times are incompatible with adolescent sleep patterns and contribute to serious health, safety, and academic problems. As a medical writer and mother of 3, I’ve been fighting for more reasonable, developmentally appropriate school hours for over a decade in my school system. Over time, however, I’ve realized that in most communities, politics, money, & myth usually win out over the best interests of the kids. That’s why I created a national petition (http://bit.ly/tWa4dS ) to push for a minimum earliest start time, which would make it easier for local schools to do the right thing when they set their particular schedules. This led to a national non-profit, Start School Later, aiming to join forces & share strategies/info instead of reinventing failed histories community by community. Check out our website (www.startschoollater.net) for more info – and consider joining us!