The early morning alarm is a sound Hershey High School students will soon not have to hear at the brink of dawn.
A recent surge of information has revealed that the amount of sleep teens receive each night affect more than just how tired they are first period. The average teen sleeps seven or less hours at night, yet the required amount is eight to ten, meaning that many teenagers are not receiving the full benefits of sleep that studies have shown. Better decision-making, mental health, obesity rates, other countless findings findings of the importance of sleep on teenagers have fueled the decision of Hershey High School (HHS) principal, Jeffery Smith, and other staff members to push back the school start time.
Pushing back school start times is not a new concept. Principal Smith showed an article from the Washington Post about California recently requiring every middle and high school in the state to shift their start times back. A few schools surrounding HHS have shifted back start times as well. HHS had considered pushing back their start times several years ago, but many critical issues awake with a start time shift, and because all of the studies about teenage sleep had not been created then, the downsides appeared to outweigh the positives. Now, HHS is looking at these issues in depth to prepare for the time shift.
Smith and other staff members are focusing on what they consider the three largest issues: transportation, child care, and after school activities.
For transportation, Smith and others must examine bus availability and procedures for the start time change. The buses run on a very strict schedule, and this would all have to change. School times also line up well with many parents’ schedules, and many students rely on rides to or from school by their parents. The start time shift could create some problems with schedules and transportation.
However, the school does acknowledge these problems and are looking for solutions. “For example, the school we’re going to visit, they tried to schedule students that participated in athletics the year prior. They were creative with their schedules. At the end of the day, they tried to either put them in an elective course, a PE course, or assign them a study hall for the last period of the day,” Smith said.
Another concern is that if the school starts later, teenagers will stay up later. The school does not know how they will solve this problem, as it is out of their hands, but they are looking at other schools to see how successful they’ve been.
“Schools have very unique social contracts with families. You’re here for seven hours and then you’re home for the rest of the day, but it would be a unique balance. I’m anxious to hear from these other schools where they’ve been successful,” said Smith.
The administration has also been taking the daily schedule into account as well. Block scheduling has not been something Hershey has been considering, but they have discussed other changes.
“Maybe there’s other ways, other than the later start time, so students don’t have to come earlier and stay later,” Smith said. “Maybe we can have time during the day where clubs will meet. Just being more creative, because we talk about being more innovative, so let’s look at everything.”
Later start times is a new addition to most schools across the U.S. and will be a big adjustment for communities.
“Schools tend to be very traditional, so it is rare when large changes are made. Schools nowadays look the same as they did 20-30 years ago,” Smith said, “So I think a community like Hershey, that sort of accepts innovation should look at how we’re doing things, and try to see if there’s slight changes that would benefit our students.”
Even though there are some conflicts, the support of the community to the announcement was overwhelmingly positive. Many comments have been made about how beneficial this would be to the community.
“This is a pretty big change,” Smith said, “It’s a big change for any community.”
Smith and McFarland will be visiting a school in November that recently changed its start time, so this is not the end of the research.