For many of us in Poudre School District, we’re already a few weeks into the school year and slowly adjusting to new routines and schedules. This also means setting alarms and waking up at the crack of dawn to get to school on time. Most elementary schools start at 8:20am, middle schools are starting at 7:20am (6:50am if you’re one of the lucky families that have a “zero period” – we’re one of them), and high schools are starting about the same time as middle school.
I’ve never been a morning person – be it in school or even as an adult, but you have to do what you have to do, right? That’s called being in the real world with real responsibilities. But, I remember struggling tremendously in high school, working two after-school jobs to afford my car and insurance, and save up for college at the same time. I was getting home at midnight with little time to do homework and often overslept missing my first period class. Had my art teacher not allowed me to make up those missed hours after school during my senior year, it would have dramatically impacted my ability to graduate.
My experience wasn’t rare for kids who had to pull their own financial weight. And it’s not rare in today’s economy. Aside from the students who have more on their plate than usual, even the students who have all of the family and financial support they could ask for are struggling with early morning school schedules. There have been numerous studies that show early start times have been detrimental to the learning process for teens as their biological needs adjust as growing people. They need a solid 9 hours of sleep and generally only get 7 hours. 33% of student report falling asleep in class, and more than half of driving teens (56%) are so tired that they report not driving their best, with 10% falling asleep at the wheel. This is only the tip of the iceberg on how the lack of sleep is impacting our kids, families, and communities. You can read a lot of the studies and facts here.
Various school districts in the US have jumped on board the late-start wagon, and the movement has started to make progress in Colorado. In March of 2017, Cherry Creek School District unanimously agreed to change start times for the next school year. And now, Poudre School District has begun the conversation to consider the same.
Start School Later is a national coalition of health professionals, sleep scientists, educators, parents, students, and other concerned citizens dedicated to increasing public awareness about the relationship between sleep and school hours and to ensuring school start times compatible with health, safety, education, and equity. Start School Later is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit involved at local, state, and national levels to raise awareness about and advocate for safe and healthy school start times, with 96 chapters in 26 states and Washington D.C. working for developmentally appropriate school start times in their communities.
Start School Later – Fort Collins was started in February of 2016. And while they’ve been advocating for later start times in our district, PSD has been slow to make progress (although many of the board members are, on board, so to speak). Progress may have been slow, but steps were made this week. On Tuesday the school board had a meeting with Start School Later advocates there, and now the board decided to add this to their agenda later in the year. This means the district has to provide options for later start times for the board to review. This starts the conversation in PSD.
Start School Later – Fort Collins is asking that people continue to talk with friends and colleagues and send emails with personal stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. They would like your kids and their friends to send emails – what would it mean to them to have an extra hour or two to sleep in the morning? And if you are an expert or know one, send letters. They would also like to have people signed up to speak about this in the public comments of every board meeting.
Oftentimes the most difficult part of making changes in our community are those arduous first steps in establishing a foundation and raising awareness enough to make some ripples. Our local Start School Later chapter has done that, providing some actionable steps for students and parents to help with progress! You can follow them on Facebook or sign up for their newsletter to stay in the loop, and sign the national petition to make your opinion known.