When the bell rings: Examining school start times

When the bell rings: Examining school start times

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - What time should school start for children? It’s a national debate.

A recent study by the University of Washington shows students in two Seattle high schools get better grades and more sleep since the school district pushed their start times back by almost an hour.

“This is something that we’ve looked at as long as 10 to 15 years ago,” said Madison City Schools Superintendent Robby Parker.

When the bell rings, students swarm the halls and prepare for the school day. Is the time these ring too early?

“Getting them up was harder, you know, getting them going. They were sluggish you know that kind of thing,” said Mark Hyatt, a parent. His son, Nicholas Hyatt, said, “I couldn’t remember anything I did during first period because I just wasn’t awake yet.”

WAFF 48 News introduced you to the Hyatt family in our first report about school start times on Dec. 3. Before moving to Huntsville, the Hyatt family lived in northeast Alabama, where they say school started early in the morning.

[READ MORE: When the bell rings: Should schools start later?]

“We had to leave the house by 6:50, 6:55 for classes to start at 7:20 or 7:30,” said Melanie Hyatt.

With this being a highly debated topic, WAFF 48 News went to school administrators in Decatur and Madison to get their perspectives.

Dwight Satterfield is the deputy superintendent for Decatur City Schools. He said they operate on staggered start times for a very specific reason.

“We’re able to bus our elementary students and then use the same buses to turn back around and transport our secondary students,” he said.

This topic isn’t new for school administrators in the Madison city school system. Parker said they are well-versed in the studies about later start times.

“Because of that, we do start our high schools at 8:15, middle schools at 8:05, and the elementary schools start at 7:40,” said Parker.

If the topic to push those times back even later were to be discussed, Parker said it wouldn’t be as simple as you may think.

“For every action there is a reaction. If we did start at 9 then we would get out instead of 3:27, we would get out at 4:27,” he said. “There is a set time of hours that we are going to be in school.”

Pushing the time the kids get out of school could also affect their after school activities.

“You would also be starting athletic events and traveling later to extracurricular activities. They would have later end times,” said Satterfield.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that children between the ages of 6 and 12 get 9 to 12 hours of sleep while teenagers get about 8 to 10 hours.

Dr. Andrew Serio with Huntsville’s Sleep Lab said the amount of sleep you get can affect your memory.

“We are finding out that a lot of the stuff that you’ve learned during the day gets consolidated at night during those deep phases of sleep,” Serio said.

Serio also said that a lack of sleep can contribute to poor classroom performance and even aggressive behavior.

Parker said grades in Madison have improved over the years, but it’s hard to credit that to a late start time.

“Think it has more to do with just a lot of the teaching practices and the growth of our system,” said Parker.

“I think our truancies and our tardies have decreased to school, but I contribute that because we’re able to stagger those transportation routes,” said Satterfield.

While your child would love school to start later, both Parker and Satterfield say you have to look at the challenges that would arise.

“The challenge is not so much the starting at 8:45 but finishing at 4 o’clock,” Parker said.

“Each school system has to look at the needs of their community and work it out in a way that’s beneficial for their students and their community,” Satterfield said.

This discussion is far from over. Parker said he thinks the 8:15 start time works for his school district but he’s open to discussing a later start time if it’s beneficial to your child.

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