Schools should have later start time

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My seventh-grader shoved Sunday's article about sleep-deprived teens in my face. "They finally figured it out," she said, referring to the enlightened schools that start classes later in the day.

Unfortunately, the Walla Walla School District is ignoring the growing research that shows that teenager's biological clocks push them to stay awake longer and sleep in later. I know too well with my two daughters that you can put a teenager to bed early, but you can't force her to sleep.

When kids are sleepy it's difficult to concentrate and learn. Research shows that students get better test scores when their tests are given later in the day.

In addition, there is substantial evidence that lack of sleep can cause car accidents, and lead to or exacerbate emotional problems, such as depression. Starting school later is a relatively inexpensive way to address lots of problems.

School hours should be set to maximize the students' learning potential, not to accommodate adult schedules, sports practices or club meetings. While extracurricular activities are valuable, they are secondary to learning.

Of course, many parents don't like their children coming home after dark. Perhaps sports teams and clubs should meet first thing in the morning? (That way, losing sleep is optional.)

Or perhaps we should have seasonal school schedules: make school days longer in fall and spring to take advantage of extra daylight, shorter in winter. We need to get creative.

Starting high school and middle school later would also mean the hassle of changing bus schedules. But it might make things less stressful for bus drivers if they did their routes once for grade schoolers and then an hour later for teenagers, instead of trying to do them all at once.

I appreciate that Wa-Hi offers students the chance to start their day during second period (8:30 a.m.), rather than first period (7:30 a.m. -- before most businesses open!) Nonetheless, a better, simpler system would be for all students to start at the same time and at a decent hour -- say 9 a.m? -- thus giving teenagers the chance to sleep at least nine hours per night, as they need.

Lack of sleep leads to depression, more teen car accidents and bad grades. Why are we forcing our teenagers to get out of bed so early?

I'm beginning to understand the appeal of home schooling.

Annie Capestany
Walla Walla

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