Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It’s the start time stupid

Out of all the things our school needs to deal with high school start times has now become the priority of one of the school board members.  This has lead to meetings and studies about why we should or should not move the start time of Ukiah High School from the current 7:30 to 8 a.m., or to the even more preferred time of 8:30.  This would also potentially move the end time of school back from 2:45 to 3:45.  Most of the reasoning for this stems from a variety of reports that are now trending about student sleep cycles.  This one in particular discusses some of the problems and consequences of teenagers not getting the necessary 9 1/2 hours of sleep they needed to function during the day. 

So, it looks like that lack of sleep is the reason why students are absent, tardy, have low test scores, and generally misbehave.  And look, there are actual studies that say this:

  • Sleep is vital to your well-being, as important as the air you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat.
  • Biological sleep patterns shift toward later times for both sleeping and waking during adolescence -- meaning it is natural to not be able to fall asleep before 11:00 pm.
  • Teens need about 9 1/4 hours of sleep each night to function best (for some, 8 1/2 hours is enough). Most teens do not get enough sleep — one study found that only 15% reported sleeping 8 1/2 hours on school nights.
  • Teens tend to have irregular sleep patterns across the week — they typically stay up late and sleep in late on the weekends, which can affect their biological clocks and hurt the quality of their sleep.
  • Many teens suffer from treatable sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy, insomnia, restless legs syndrome or sleep apnea

This is the kind of study that makes teachers want to punch scientists in the face.  The information presented here is kind of like the Romney for America ticket calling you and presenting information about why America hates having a Muslim for President.  Some Americans might actually believe this.  But when you look at the small sample size of the poll that take people from Nebraska that contain members of the Westboro Baptist Church, you soon realize that the information is kind of a joke.  Sort of like this study. 

While reminding us that teens don’t get a lot of sleep (something that most people are well aware of), the study fails to investigate why this is really occurring, relying on the trusted reasons of “it’s natural”, “restless leg syndrome”, and narcolepsy.  Oh, I don’t know, this all seems kind of fishy to me.  I realize that narcolepsy has a massive standing in the adolescent community, but I think this might be a tad bit more relevant to why teens don’t sleep.

Monster Energy Drinks

Do we now forget that teens eat and drink all kinds of shit to get them wired?  Monster, Starbucks, 5 Hour Energy….have we forgotten that we are now a culture that wants easy remedies to solving our problems?  Who the hell needs healthy alternatives?  Just take instant rush in the morning and all is fine…until the crash. 

And now that we are really getting technical about what kids do before they sleep, how about turning off the computer.  Seems like the computer screen does not have the same impact as reading a book, and actually makes the mind work harder before you go to bed.  Oh, that means iPads too.  In fact, pretty much all the electronics that parents can’t control are an impediment to kids getting a good night’s rest.  So this means that if we move start times back kids get more time to stay up and an excuse to just be late at 8 a.m. instead of 7:30. 

Starting later is no skin off my back.  I’ll sleep more, have more morning prep time, and I’ll end up still doing my extra-curriculars regardless.  But the impact on the students could be totally invasive.

-First of all, it was the students that requested the early start time in the first place.  Higher academic students wanted to take AP classes early in the day so they could do extra-curriculars, and Juniors and Seniors wanted the early start time so they could get out earlier and work part-time.

-Because the nearest athletic opponent is an hour away, the later finish time would create a situation where younger kids will miss up to three periods of school for a contest, and upper classmen would miss one or two.  While people like to jump on the “athletics doesn’t run the school” bandwagon, I’d like to remind you that nearly half of the school participates in athletics, including a vast majority of the higher academic kids.

-When you include other extra-curriculars; chorus, band, drama performances, clubs, MESA, and other school activities, you are now looking at well over half the population of the school missing periods worth of academic learning. 

-Then you have the off campus appointments that family members schedule that will now interrupt class time.  Medical, dental, you name it and no longer will a 3 p.m. appointment time be good enough. 

And maybe our board members should take a look at attendance at the end of the day as well.  My numbers show the worst tardy problems during first period.  However my worst attendance is far and away after lunch, and that has been the case since Day 1. 

I’m afraid this is the usual exercise of avoiding problems of accountability by straying as far from the real problems as possible.  Move that start time up an hour and we can make our kids really give a shit about STAR testing and Common Core Standards and Formative Writing and Problem-Based Learning and whatever else we actually didn’t like when we were kids.  And this method of moving the start time, like many other programs that deem to move the unmotivated to academic success, reeks of only considering the bottom tier of academia while totally ignoring those that want a more complete education.  Choices for these students has already been limited by dramatic cuts to education, yet we seem to have no problem blasting away at their opportunities.  Very classy.

So, back up the start times and see what happens.  My guess is maybe a slight initial bump in attendance as everyone plays along.  Then it will come back to normal, and maybe even worse as students miss more afternoon classes.  Then higher level kids will want AP classes or band classes earlier in the day, and then more kids will want classes earlier.  Then we will move it back earlier for everyone.  Then a study will come out saying that narcoleptic teenagers are at risk of concussions by slamming their heads on desks due to inner-ear equilibrium problems.  That will require all teachers to get concussion training, which will require that the teachers take online video classes that allow for a certificate to be printed that says that the teacher can identify a concussion.  Only the teacher won’t watch the classes because he feels for the student that lost their job due to the late start times so he pays the student $50 to watch the concussion videos for him.  Yet because of the computer screen activity, the student can not go to sleep. 

And the vicious cycle continues.                   

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