Does School Start Too Early?

By Rachel Ackerman

It’s 6:30 AM, and your alarm goes off. The blaring sound startles you awake from your deep sleep, and you want nothing more than to stay in bed. You wish you had gone to bed earlier so that you would feel better in the morning, but you simply had to finish all of the work you were assigned last night.

Senior Amanda Winkler comments that “everyone stays up really late finishing loads of homework…then we have to wake up extremely early in the morning to get to school on time.” This is a dilemma faced by many high school students, especially those at Byram Hills. A school start time of 7:45 AM requires students to arise early, yet extracurricular activities and heavy coursework require them to stay up late. Students have voiced that this leads to immense sleep deprivation and often lower levels of functioning throughout the school day.

Parents, students, and teachers have begun to discuss whether Byram Hills schools, specifically BHHS, begin too early. The high school begins at 7:45 AM, HCC at 7:50 AM, Wampus at 8:25 AM, and Coman Hill at 9:10. Many argue that teenagers need more time to sleep and that a later start time would allow them to do this. Others, however, believe that pushing back the start time would result in a later end time and later after-school activities; therefore, students would end up going to bed even later than before.

In the past few years, scientific studies have begun to pile up, all leading to a similar verdict: starting school later improves learning. Biological research has demonstrated that circadian rhythms shift throughout adolescence, causing teens to go to bed later and wake up later in the morning. This shift, caused by a neurological melatonin change, starts at approximately age 13, increases by ages 15 and 16, and grows even more prominent at ages 17, 18 and 19. Therefore, teenage students are actually biologically programmed to want to stay up later and sleep later.

But does this sleep discrepancy impact academic performance? According to a large study conducted at the University of Minnesota that tracked more than 9,000 students in public high schools, it most certainly does. After a semester of eight public schools started later, performance in core subjects (English, social studies, math, and science) rose an average of a “quarter step”– about halfway from a B+ to an A. Many other recent studies conducted at public schools have produced similar findings.

A sign posted in Greenwich notifying residents of the new school start times.

In fact, a school district in very close proximity to Byram Hills has already made changes to their district’s start times. Last year, the Greenwich Public School District voted to make school start times later for the 2017-18 school year. Greenwich High School now starts at 8:30 AM, an hour later than its previous start time. The town’s middle schools also shifted slightly to an 8:00 AM opening from the previous 7:45 AM. The decision came after many months of debates, public hearings, and surveys.

So with all of this verified scientific evidence that a later start time would benefit students, why hasn’t Byram Hills made any changes? One reason is because of the cost it would take to rearrange the entire scheduling system, specifically regarding bussing. Depending on how the times would be changed, more buses may be required to bring high schoolers to school at a later time, because the elementary schools also start later in the morning. Additionally, extracurricular activities and sports would need to be pushed back, potentially resulting in less practice time as night falls sooner. One sophomore remarks “I would rather get home earlier than come to school later.”

Overall, there is an argument that a change to school start times would be too hard to implement and would not do anything to help students. However, there is also a strong argument that Byram Hills is in need of an improvement to student wellness and happiness, and a later school start time may be able to provide students with more sleep and a more manageable academic schedule.