Friday, May 24, 2013
By Susan McMillan firstname.lastname@example.org
AUGUSTA — Cony High School sophomore Shaun Gallagher has had two years to adjust to starting school at 7:10 a.m.
Hall-Dale High School students work on a geometry lesson last year in Kendra Guiou’s classroom in Farmingdale. Most area high schools start classes at times that sleep experts say run counter to adolescent biology.
Staff file photo by Andy Molloy
Local school start times
But he’s not there yet.
“Sometimes I’ll just randomly have lots of energy, but some days I’m really sluggish and not really awake until 10:30,” he said.
Although they’re twins, Shaun’s brother, Noah, said he’s a morning person and feels ready to go at the first bell. “But I know that a lot of my friends complain about the schedule still,” Noah said.
Noah Gallagher is probably an anomaly among teenagers, but Cony’s schedule is hardly unique in expecting students to learn well before 8 a.m. Most area high schools start classes at times that sleep experts say run counter to adolescent biology.
“Their little brains are still asleep at eight o’clock in the morning, but most of them are sitting in a classroom for an hour,” said Martine Eon, interim practice manager at the Maine Sleep Institute, which is an 8-bed center at Maine Medical Center in Portland that specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of sleeping disorders.
School schedules tend to be based on non-academic factors such as sports and extracurricular activities, transportation arrangements and parents’ desire to see children off to school before work or have older children home in the afternoon to supervise younger siblings.
Cony Middle School began classes at 8:20 a.m. last year, but has shifted to 7:10 a.m. to coordinate with the high school, which is in the same building. Some teachers have classes in both schools, and Principal Jim Anastasio said the faculty requested the change.
“We found that with kids on two different schedules and teachers on two different schedules it never allowed reasonable professional development to take place,” Anastasio said. “Some teachers came in earlier than others, some teachers left earlier than others. It was really disjointed.”
Cony has the earliest start in central Maine, but most high schools also begin the day before 8 a.m. Maranacook High School in Readfield starts at 8, and Skowhegan Area High School at 8:15.
No earlier than 8:15
A hormone called melatonin maintains humans’ internal daily clock or circadian rhythm. Darkness triggers the release of melatonin in the brain, making young children feel sleepy as early as 7 p.m. and adults at about 9 p.m.
Teenagers, however, don’t feel its effects until about 11 p.m., and they need at least nine hours of sleep, Eon said.
When Minneapolis public schools shifted high school starts from 7:15 a.m. to 8:40 a.m., teachers in suburban schools noted less tardiness and fewer disciplinary problems. Massachusetts middle schools showed similar results in a different study, and one Kentucky county had fewer car crashes when high schools started an hour later.
Finley Edwards, a visiting assistant professor of economics at Colby College, studied middle schools in Wake County, N.C., and found that starting at 8:30 rather than 7:30 increased standardized test scores by at least 2 percentage points in math and 1 point in reading. The largest improvements were among students with below-average test scores.
Edwards said he would expect to see similar effects in Maine and recommends that school start no earlier than 8:15 or 8:30.
“I think the reason why so many schools have moved to starting earlier is to save money on transportation costs,” he said. “But the money saved is completely wiped out in terms of the cost of student performance that we’re losing by starting schools early.”
Maranacook Community High School Principal Carol Fritz agreed that transportation determines school schedules.
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