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Some for, some against changing school start times


October 20, 2010
BELMONT — The research may show that later high school start times are better for students, but that alone won't be enough to prompt a change to Belmont High School's 7:25 a.m. start.

The Shaker Regional School Board heard a presentation on teen sleep patterns, as well as the results of an online district survey, at its meeting last week.

Lucy Blount, daughter of Superintendent Mark Blount and senior at Bow High School, did her senior research project on sleep deprivation in teens and shared her data with the board. Her thesis was "Sleep deprivation causes teens to make decisions that negatively impact their health, relationships, recreational activities and academic abilities." Blount said high school-aged students don't get enough sleep because their bodies are naturally programmed to go to bed later, between 10 p.m. and midnight, and wake up later, between 8 and 10 a.m., than younger children.

The information Blount presented supports the research that Shaker district officials gathered during their own studies into the issue.

After the presentation, the School Board asked the seniors in the room what time they would prefer to start school. They said around 8:30 a.m. would be best.

BHS Principal Russ Holden handed out the results of an online survey that asked for parents' opinions of the current start times and the proposed start times. Approximately 40 people responded, and the results were mixed, with more parents of high school students saying the change would benefit their child's sleep habits and family schedule than parents of elementary or middle-school parents.

The survey response included comments that ranged from mildly supportive of the proposal to strongly against it. "When are we parents supposed to work? This would be imposable (sic)!! NO" one person wrote.

Another opponent said adopting a later start time would prompt them to seek "other educational options" for their child.

Many others said starting later would affect work schedules, after-school activities and appointments, and daycare.

A parent who supported a change wrote, " I know my teenagers are half asleep when they leave home at 0645, so starting later sure makes sense to us."

Holden said there would be no conflict with students in the Winnisquam Agriculture program or the Huot Tech program. Student athletes would likely have to miss more classes to get to games on time.

"I think the big pushback for the community is going to be the logistics," board member Preston Tuthill said.

Mark Blount said high schools in Pembroke, Bedford and Windham pushed back their start times, but only until 8 a.m. or a little after – not within the timeframes research suggests. He said no other public high schools in the state have much later start times, so Shaker schools would be in the tough position of setting a precedent.

"This is not just a single district issue; it's really a broader regional or state issue," he said. "It's kind of hard for one single district in an area to tackle this."

He suggested the high school take small steps by educating students about sleep and how and why to make it a priority. His daughter's research suggested that students limit caffeine, ban electronics from the bedroom, and not sleep in on weekends.

Belmont Elementary School Principal Emily Spear said there are a lot of benefits to later start times at the high school level, but an equal number of challenges.

"The simple act of asking people to change is the biggest challenge I think," she said.

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