Later start time offers healthier alternatives for students

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Later start time offers healthier alternatives for students

Stone sign located outside of Westford Academy

Stone sign located outside of Westford Academy

Westford Public Schools

Stone sign located outside of Westford Academy

Westford Public Schools

Westford Public Schools

Stone sign located outside of Westford Academy

Melanie Duronio, Staff Writer

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With a large number of students coming to class sleep-deprived, the school committee has been debating the idea of later school start times as a solution to this continuous problem. I believe that if Westford Academy were to implement a later starting time, it would be a step in the right direction for student health and productivity.  

According to researchers, the hormone melatonin, which regulates sleep in the human body, is produced in teenagers much later in the day compared to adults and younger children.  More specifically, melatonin is released at around midnight for teenagers, meaning that they fall asleep later than an average adult.  With the current format of Westford Academy’s school schedule, students are especially tired in the morning because they are forced to wake up much earlier than they are naturally inclined.

The recommended length of sleep for teenagers is 8-10 hours, but students at Westford Academy, on average, only receive about 6-7 hours of sleep a night.  I believe that having school start later would help to increase this time-frame for students because they will have additional time to sleep in, therefore helping students to feel more awake during their first classes.

If Westford Academy does decide to carry out a later starting time, it will give students at least an extra half-hour of sleep, which will help them to feel more awake throughout the school day.  Studies have also shown that this leads to a result of students being more productive and alert during their classes.

However, it is important to regard how schools at the elementary level will be affected, as Westford Academy changing its starting time will inevitably force the town to restructure the starting times of the elementary schools as well.

An easy solution would be to swap the current start and end times for elementary schools with that of Westford Academy’s.  In other words, schools at the elementary level will begin at 7:35 am, the present start time for Westford Academy, while Westford Academy would begin at the current start time of the elementary schools, around 8:15 am.  I believe that this would be more appropriate for students at the elementary level than those in high school since younger children are less likely to feel tired in the morning compared to a teenager.

Another advantage is that buses will be able to pick students up at a more reasonable time.  Currently, the buses arrive for some students as early as 6:30 am, meaning that they have to wake up at around 6:00 am to get ready for school and possibly grab a quick breakfast before rushing to their bus stop.  A considerable amount of students are driven to school, for this reason, creating heavy traffic that causes buses to arrive even later to school. 

However, some people are worried that these time changes will negatively affect the organization of after-school activities.  A common concern I’ve heard regarding this is what students who play sports will do if they have games after school in other towns.  One proposal is to allow these students an early dismissal during their last class so they can be on time for their game. Although it will be a hassle to make up classwork, the last block of a school day is always dropped the next, so students will have an extra day to catch up on work, as well as time before or after-school if they need further help.

In addition, Westford Academy already ends much earlier than most schools in the county, so when it comes to pushing the ending time ahead half an hour, it will not interfere with the game schedules of other schools.  In fact, This will help Westford Academy to be more in tune with the timing of other sports teams, as most of the time students from Westford Academy have to wait for other teams to be dismissed from school.

So far, other towns such as Acton-Boxborough, Marlborough, and Burlington have all successfully switched to later start times.  Some positive results for these schools include lower absences and tardiness rates as well as overall better academic performances.  Students in those schools have also experienced lower stress levels and healthier sleeping patterns.  

If Westford Academy decides to go through with implementing later start times, it will take a while to adjust to changes in a schedule that has remained familiar to students since middle school.  Overall though, I believe that a later starting time will be a positive change, as it will continue a conversation on how to better improve the well-being of our students.