Coronado Middle School (CMS) has announced that it will have a new start time next year. Prior to this, classes start at 7:58 am at CMS, with a few late start days on Thursdays scattered throughout the school year. For the coming year, the new start time will be 8:20 am.
The shift to a later start time follows a trend of the last several years. Experts (doctors, scientists and teachers) have argued that later start times are a good idea. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. The primary reason is that although teens still need a solid night of sleep, the teen brain is wired to go to sleep later than that would allow. So, if we expect our teens to sleep enough, they need to go to school later.
Why does this matter? Sleep is critical to learning. Without enough sleep, the brain is unable to fully process information and sort it in such a way as to be remembered. Earlier start times have thus been linked both to higher test scores and to higher levels of attendance (which, in turn, impacts learning).
Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control say getting insufficient sleep is associated with a number of health risks for adolescents, including being overweight, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, and using other drugs, and suffering from depression.
Nonetheless, many schools have not shifted to a later schedule. In fact, the average start time in California middle and high schools is 8:07 a.m. It is difficult to make the shift for many reasons including the difficulty of parents who need to drop their children off to get to work by 8 a.m. and sports schedules with other schools.
But data do show that a later start time is beneficial. In 2016, most Seattle public middle and high schools shifted their start time nearly an hour later, from 7:50 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. Researchers who have studied the change found that students got more sleep (these measurements were taken via wrist monitors rather than self-reporting) – more than a half hour per night on average. In addition, they found higher grades as well as fewer absences and tardies once the time shift was implemented.
Sleep specialist Wendy Troxel (no relation to the author of this article) says that waking teenagers too early, as we do now, before their biological clocks say it is time to get up deprives them of “dream sleep—the type of sleep most associated with learning, memory consolidation, and emotional processing.”
Some parents argue that we need to get our teenagers up early now because they need to begin to adjust to the real world – to get up at a time similar to when they will need to in order to get to work. Troxel says that that is akin to not letting babies nap because they eventually will need to work: it just doesn’t make sense because it doesn’t take into account their biological needs at the age they are.
CMS Principal, Karin Mellina, says “We’ve done a lot of research on school start times for teens, and there’s a lot of evidence surrounding the fact that preteens and teens are able to function and focus at a higher level when they have ample amounts of sleep and a later start to the school day … research has shown that even 20 minute later start time has a marked impact on student success. We’re looking forward to implementing the new start time.”
The lineup of start times for Coronado Unified Schools will be: Coronado High School at 7:58 a.m.; Village Elementary and Silver Strand Elementary at 8:10 a.m.; and Coronado Middle at 8:20 a.m.