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Op-Ed: A Student Perspective on School Start Times

West Hartford Public Schools Superintendent's Office. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Zachary Sobel-Pressman of West Hartford is a junior at Hall High School.

By Zachary Sobel-Pressman

I strongly believe that later start times will greatly benefit the entire school district, both in academics and in general student well-being. I am a 16-year-old junior at Hall High School. In addition to taking multiple AP classes, I play two seasons of sports and play in the band, and am involved with clubs both in and out of school. While opponents of changing school start times have cited already stellar academics and possible conflicts with sports as reasons to maintain the current start times, I believe we continue sacrificing teenagers’ mental and physical health by keeping them.

One of the biggest arguments for maintaining the status quo is that sports practices would have fewer hours of daylight and that athletes may have to leave school early to get to competitions at other schools. I believe this impact would be minimal. I run cross-country and track for school. Practices currently start at 2:30 p.m. on non-Wednesdays for both of those sports. They usually end just after 4 p.m., meaning none of the 130+ athletes can take the four o’clock late bus. This leaves the entire team relying on their parents to pick them up, but most high school students’ parents work and can’t pick up their kids until around 5 p.m.

I carpooled with two other boys this cross-country season, and all of our parents work. Countless times we would finish practice too late to take the late bus, too late to go to the library and get some homework done (it was already closed), but too early for our parents to pick us up. So we would have to wait up to an hour at school, unable to do work because we can’t access computers, until we finally could get picked up. If start times were pushed back 40 minutes, then the time wasted would be minimized, or even eliminated. So, even with later start times student-athletes would still get home around the same time.

Opponents to later start times also worry that our teams will be rushed to get to competitions, and that they would have to leave school early to get to games on time. But Alex Putterman, the son of former West Hartford Board of Education member Bruce Putterman, thinks differently. In this article in The Atlantic (April 12, 2017), he argues that getting enough sleep will cause athletes to perform better, and be less prone to injury. In fact, a study (March 2014, National Center for Biotechnology Information) of students in Los Angeles found that students got enough sleep were 1.7 times less likely to get injured than students who didn’t sleep enough. So, by delaying start times we will improve the health of our student-athletes by allowing them to get the sleep they need.

Another objection to shifting start times is because of conflicting bus times with private schools who would not adopt the same schedule. While it is likely that some would follow what the public schools do, in the worst case scenario the additional buses would cost the district $94,012 annually (We-Ha.com). While this seems like a lot, in reality it represents just more than one percent of the current transportation budget of $8,057,586 (whps.org).

But what are the benefits of later start times? Why is it even necessary to change the system that some believe works fine? Delaying high school start times will improve students’ performance in early morning classes, because it will make the hours of sleep that we are able to get more closely align with our natural circadian rhythm. Every year, I find myself unable to concentrate or perform simple calculations in my first period classes, and I “wake up” as the day goes on. But this year on some days I have first period free, and I am able to sleep for just 45 more minutes. On those days when I sleep just a little later, I notice that I am able to concentrate right when I arrive at school, and I don’t have to spend much of the day waking up.

If adopted, these changes to school start times will have a great effect on the health and well-being of future West Hartford students. Don’t let small inconveniences prevent you from doing the right thing for the future of this town.

We-Ha.com will accept Op-Ed submissions from members of the community. We reserve the right to edit all submitted content.

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