Would later start times mean better high school students?

Would having school start later in the day improve students' productivity?

It's a conversation taking place at some suburban school districts, including those based in Barrington, Elgin and Naperville.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends school districts consider delaying start times for middle school and high school students until 8:30 a.m. or later. Experts say when adolescents reach puberty, their internal clocks shift one to two hours as they go to bed later. Having to get up so early for school makes them less productive.

“If their brain is still sleepy, then it's much harder for them to be able to pay attention in class, to be able to learn and do their very best,” said Shalini Paruthi, director of the Pediatric Sleep and Research Center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center in St. Louis.

“We do know if kids are not getting enough sleep, then they are going to be at higher risk for physical health problems, such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. We know that tired kids have more emotional and behavioral problems, too.”

Nationally, school districts that have pushed back start times have seen an improvement in students' performance at school, and a reduction in the number of car accidents involving teenagers, experts say.

Locally, no one appears quite ready to take the plunge, though study continues.

“It is really important for parents and local school boards to work together to implement high school start times that allow the teenagers to get the healthy sleep that they need to meet their full potential,” Paruthi said.

An Elgin Area School District U-46 task force reviewed what an ideal school day should look like for students.

“There was a great deal of research coming forward that indicated teens really would benefit from additional hours of sleep,” said Suzanne Johnson, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. Yet, there is not enough information to change the current policy.

“None of the studies had long-term achievement data,” Johnson said. “What the research really focuses on is the more social and emotional component ... Kids are less agitated, more likely to be present in their work.”

In U-46, high schoolers start school at 7:40 a.m. Elementary students begin at 8 or 8:30 a.m., and middle schoolers' day starts at 9 a.m.

The staggered times are necessary to provide daily transportation of 26,000 students to 57 sites.

Naperville District 203 officials will review start times as part of an analysis of how best to structure the school day, a plan targeted for completion in June 2018.

The high school start time is 7:45 a.m., while middle schoolers start classes at 8 a.m.

“There have been some other studies in the past with similar conclusions,” said Bob Ross, assistant superintendent for secondary education.

“We want to look at all the research and all the best practices in school districts.”

Ross said officials may consult with an independent medical advisory board that includes local pediatricians about the benefits of late start times for teens.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends adolescents get a little more than nine hours of sleep for optimal health and daytime alertness.

A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine suggests that teen drivers who start class earlier in the morning are involved in more car accidents than peers with a later start time.

Drowsy driving potentially causes 328,000 car accidents and 6,400 fatal crashes nationwide each year, according to a report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Such crashes are most prevalent among drivers between the ages of 16 and 24.

The Barrington District 220 school board recently discussed delaying the 7:20 a.m. start time for Barrington High School's 3,100 students at the urging of parents and community members.

The school board will revisit the topic next month, said spokeswoman Morgan Delack.

“One of the board's strategic goals is optimal time for learning,” Delack said. “They need more time to review whether that's a good idea or not.”

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