Early start for high school hurts our children academically

High school students are not getting enough sleep and it affects their performance. It makes sense that we should delay the start time for high schools. Photo: To do well in school, students must be well-rested

MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., November 24, 2012 — At a time when many experts have told us that our secondary school education is a dismal experience for many students, there is one thing that we can do to improve it. Experts indicate that our teenagers are not getting enough sleep and that this negatively impacts their performance. Making sure they do get enough sleep should increase their performance.

In Montgomery County, Md. the starting time for high school students is 7:25 AM. Bus pickup time is around 6:45 AM or earlier. Providing for dressing, normal hygiene, breakfast, and the walk to the bus stop, the student has to wake up at 6:00 a.m. or earlier. Typically the student is picked up before 6:30 a.m.

So the average high school student needs to go to bed at 9:00 p.m. to get the recommended nine hours of sleep. If you know the secret to getting a teenager to bed at 9:00 p.m., you will probably get rich. Try to remember when you were in to high school and whether you went to bed by then. I dare to make a bet that most would say no.

Teenagers need more sleep than they get

There is little doubt that forcing a teenager to go to bed early is very difficult. Most are just getting a second wind after arriving home and eating dinner. They prefer almost any type of diversion than heading to sleep.

Even if parents chose not to “pander” to the student in their family, what is there to gain by making his/her life unhappy? Many parents discover that when they check on their child, there is a possibility that he may not be asleep in bed but has turned the lights off and jumped out the window to meet with friends that may have done the same or that don’t have restrictions. Teenagers are very inventive when they want to meet with their friends. Even if the youngster doesn’t do anything this drastic, others stay up reading, social-computing and watching television.

Are there important reasons for setting the school schedule as it is? The school administrators are quick to respond that there are.

Probably the most mentioned reason is the budget, explaining it this way:

In order to use the school buses in the most efficient way, pickup time for high school students has to be done early. In addition to high school students, junior high, elementary school, special education, and other children in the system also have to be picked up. Included are those engaged in extra curriculum activities and those who go to more than one school.

If the schedule is changed, the reasoning continues, the county would have to buy more buses, employ more people and possibly use more gas and other operating materials.

In an era when issue analysis has become commonplace, it is hard to believe that an exhaustive study has been done and that better options are not available. Even if this were the case, that no better options are available for our students and continuing to implement a schedule that hurts the future of our children is irrational.

We want to offer our children the best chances for success, not just for each individual benefit, but also for the future of our country. Unless we reverse the trend of the last three decades of dropping lower and lower on the educational scale, we have to start making changes that provide our children a better future.

Montgomery County, Md. residents have started a petition to delay the high school start time by one hour. With budget problems and other issues derived from the economic crises, chances are that the bookkeepers will prevail over those that want to give our children a chance. Let’s hope not.

Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is a bleeding heart liberal, agnostic, exercise fanatic, Redskin fan, technophile, civil engineer, combat infantry veteran, jewelry maker, amateur computer programmer, Environmental engineer, Colombian-born, free thinker, and, not surprisingly, pacifist. You can find his articles - ranging from politics to cooking a mean brisket - in 21st Century Pacifist <http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/21st-century-pacifist/> at The Washington Times Communities. Follow Mario on Twitter @chibcharus #TWTC and Facebook at Mario Salazar.

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Mario Salazar

Mario Salazar is a combat infantry Vietnam Vet, world traveler, renaissance reconnaissance man, pacifist, metal smith, glass artisan, computer programmer and he has a Master of Science in Civil/Environmental Engineering.  Now retired from the Environmental Protection Agency and living in Montgomery County, Mario will share with you his life, his thoughts, his musing on living in yet another century of change.  He will also try to convey his joy of being old.

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