Below are the following start and release times for schools in my county (Cabarrus County, North Carolina):
High School: 7:15-2:15
Elementary School: 8:15-3:00
Middle School: 9:00-4:00
As a result of a limited number of busses shared throughout the county, there is no “good” way to stagger K-12 start/release times. Personally speaking, I think 8:15-3:00 is the perfect school day. It’s late enough to avoid waking up at the crack of dawn and yet your afternoon is still free for after-school activities, sports, homework, work, etc. Unfortunately, every school in my county (and in most other counties) isn’t able to share the same start time due to strategies bussing schedules. According to my high school’s vice principal in charge of transportation, these start times made the most sense in order to (1) provide that high school students are able to be released from school before younger siblings who may need care until a parent gets home from work, (2) allow for high school students to get jobs and participate in extracurricular activities in the afternoons, and (3) ensure that elementary school students can be dropped off prior to their parent’s leaving for work in the morning. This leaves middle school students starting later (which I always enjoyed in terms of sleep), but not getting home in the evenings until almost the time of sunset! This late release time was what I hated most about middle school because by the time you get home it was almost 4:30 and then there was sports practice, dinner, and homework to squeeze into the remainder of the night.
Sleep wasn’t a concern in elementary school, where there was very little to do outside of school, or in middle school, where I was able to sleep until 8:00 AM each morning. This changes with the level of involvement from high school students. During these four years, I would always try to get to sleep by 11:00 PM in order to get a solid 7 hours of sleep, but realistically, this isn’t the case for many students. Granted, not all students were being productive at these odd hours of the night, but some where and I do remember late nights where I would be up until 1:00 or 2:00 AM working on homework or studying, just to have to get up the next morning at 6:00 AM. This isn’t healthy for the bodies of growing adolescents and can be detrimental to early-morning learning!
According to the National Sleep Foundation, “adolescents today face a widespread chronic health problem: sleep deprivation.” These researchers claim that teenagers are the least likely to get enough sleep while they need an average of 9 ¼ hours of sleep per night for optimal performance and health and brain development. They also note that most teenagers average fewer than 7 hours of sleep per school night through high school, causing many students to struggle with feeling rested and alert as a result of these off-balance sleep patterns. In a study, the National Sleep Foundation found that 60% of children under the age of 18 complained about being tired during the day and 15% said they fell asleep during school that year.
I find this so sad! While I admit that I was probably sleep deprived in high school and would guarantee that I am not getting an adequate 7-9 hours of sleep per night in college, it is crucial that there is a balance between early start times and realistic bussing schedules. These adolescent years should be where students are establishing good, healthful habits for the future, and this pertains to sleep as well. While there may be no “solution” to this problem, I would love to see schools work with their population of students to ensure that they are getting a healthy amount of rest and meeting their full academic potential.