The Science of Adolescent Sleep

I recently shared a message with staff and families about a New York Times article, The Science Of Adolescent Sleep. This article summarizes the basis for making the change: to accommodate the developmentally-appropriate sleep needs, behaviors and patterns of adolescents.

As this school year comes to an end, we want to remind our families about our new start and end times for elementary and high school, which go into effect next school year (2017-18). Our middle school bell times are staying the same.

While many families are excited about the new start times (later for high school at 8:30 a.m. and earlier for elementary starting at 8 a.m.), some have wonders. One common question I hear is “won’t the earlier start time impact sleep for our youngest students?” Medical professionals say if there is one group of students (elementary, middle or high) that needs to start earlier, then it should be elementary students, because they are more likely to go to bed earlier (compared with a middle or high school student) to still get the sleep they need.

Because our district covers 100 square miles with 22 schools, we can’t have all levels and schools starting at the same time (mostly due to logistics like transportation), so we stagger our start and end times.

Then, the big question is, how late can the earliest school start and our last school can be dismissed? During our engagement process in 2015 to survey students, staff, families and our community, and factoring in transportation, after-school athletics/activities, family schedule constraints (from jobs to evening commitments), we learned that most are comfortable with elementary starting at 8 a.m. and that the majority of folks want students done with school before 4 p.m.

As always, I look forward to your feedback. If you still have questions or thoughts or would rather not comment on the blog, I’d be happy to meet with you and/or a group of families to learn more.  You can contact Ruth Rasmussen at 676-6501 to schedule an appointment.

Comments (16)

  1. Rainbow Koehl

    1 year ago

    Although my child is in middle school, I have learned that his schedule is going to change–perhaps due to these new start/end times. He takes the bus to and from school. He leaves home at 8:05 am to catch the bus and returns at 4:35pm. This is because he is basically first on in the morning and last off in the afternoon. It used to be that if you are first on in the morning, you are first off in the afternoon, but not on his bus. This fall, his bus will be leaving even later in the afternoon before taking students home. He may not be getting home till 4:45pm!! This is way too late.

    • Greg

      1 year ago

      hi Rainbow, thanks for the comment. You are right – while the middle school schedule does not change (it will stays 9:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.), some middle school students who ride the bus will get picked up a little later from school (closer to 4 p.m.). Currently at many middle schools, there are delays for buses due to congestion at the schools because of parent pick-up. Even when we arrive on schedule, we can be held up departing due to congestion. Next year, parent pick-up will occur at 3:45pm and the congestion will be cleared out in time for buses to get to school, get loaded, and depart more timely. Although we are scheduled to arrive a bit later, I believe our departure process will be expedited making the actual time delay more like 5 minutes, not 15 minutes.

      The potential benefit to students (I’ve had my own middle school students who ride the bus now for four straight years) is that instead of running from class straight out to the bus, this may allow our kids a few moments to slow down and either go to the bathroom, go to their locker, stop by the office to pick something up, swing by a teacher’s classroom to ask a quick question, etc. Things that students who walk home often have a chance to do.

      Our transportation team is working on routes for 2017-18 now, and they plan to publish them in August. Please know that bus routing and schedules aren’t a perfect science, so your assumptions based on this year’s bus schedule may or may not be accurate. It all depends on enrollment numbers (which can change a lot year-to-year). Thanks for your patience as we re-work our schedules and for your comment!

  2. Connie Clement

    1 year ago

    I am so relieved and excited for next year’s high school schedule. I am relieved that we will no longer have to get our child to school at 6:30am for jazz band. (I cannot imagine having to listen to trumpets that early in the morning!) It’s not the “inconvenience” of the early start time, it’s knowing that my daughter really needs the sleep those mornings. The new schedule will allow 2 more hours of sleep to all the students taking 0-hour classes. That’s a very good change.

    I am excited for the new 8-period schedule that offers students the opportunity to take a wider variety of classes. This could open new doors for many students! They might find a passion in something they’ve never experienced before. That’s fantastic!

    I am so grateful for the changes, and am glad they are being implemented now instead of a couple years down the road. Thank you for making this happen.

    • Greg

      1 year ago

      hi Connie, thanks for your comment and enthusiasm! We are right there with you – we are very excited about the benefits and opportunities for students, from health to the chance for new learning and to discover new passions.

  3. Annie Franzmann

    1 year ago

    I love that these big changes are being made for the benefit of our students from elementary through high school levels and are supported by thorough research. Some of us may find ourselves challenged initially by the adjustment, but just like the changes we made to accommodate Breakfast in the Classroom, the positive outcomes for our students and families make it all worthwhile. Soon it will be the new normal!

    • Greg

      1 year ago

      Thanks, Annie! I appreciate the acknowledgement that change can be hard, and while we certainly understand challenges associated with change, I agree that it’s important to focus on the positives! Thanks for adding your perspective to this blog.

  4. Melissa Hedrick

    1 year ago

    Please tell me that you are working on a more reasonably priced after school care program? Close to $400 a month for the YMCA is just not doable, especially when we planned on having our high school age child watch our elementary aged child for FREE. Couldn’t we have a parks and rec program, use volunteers or para-educators to make a more reasonably priced program? They could do it for dollars a day per child, just to cover their salary, not as a money maker.

    • Greg

      1 year ago

      hi Melissa, I know other families have this concern, so I appreciate you asking the question. The challenge is that I don’t have a definitive answer, but I can tell you that we are continuing to work on this and that a number of local organizations and partners (including the YMCA, the City of Bellingham’s Department of Parks and Recreation) are “at the table.”
      We have a diverse population in Bellingham with varying needs (and families with varying schedule constraints and expectations). Some families say a 6.5 hour school day (currently our model for elementary and middle school) is too long, while others say it’s not long enough, given the fact that most working parents have 8 to 9 hour (or more) work days. I’m sorry I can’t offer a more complete solution, and thanks again for your asking these important questions. I am hopeful that we will share some ideas on this in the near future!

  5. Lauralee Carbone

    1 year ago

    I applaud changing the high school hours as a response to scientific findings regarding our children’s sleep needs.

    I look forward to further changes in our schools to align with other scientific findings in learning processes, brain function, and societal and economic needs.

    • Greg

      1 year ago

      Hi, Lauralee, thanks for your comment and support!

  6. Chris Wiebe

    1 year ago

    Hello!
    I appreciate the effort the district is taking to look after our children’s well being and changing the start time for high school. It’s a fairly small change that I’m not sure will make a huge difference in the long run in terms of getting an extra 35 minutes of sleep. I’m not in support of an earlier elementary start time and would like to understand the reasoning behind that. For myself, a single mom with 2 jobs, it lessens the amount of time both of my children are in school at the same time so I can work and research or not, my experience as a mom of 4 is that children are very different and in this case, my youngest has a hard time with the 8:30 wake up time and my middle schooler wakes at 6 every morning despite bedtime. In a home where families are working a lot, there are multiple children and at times, multiple families, maintaining a schedule, or getting a child into bed “early” is often not an option. Bringing the start times of elementary and middle school closer together for working parents of multiple children supports our community more than making a couple of half hour changes here and there that create more barriers. Thank you for listening. I’m aware its complex and there is no easy solution, but I appreciate the opportunity to voice my opinion.

    • Greg

      1 year ago

      hi Chris, thanks for adding your perspective to the conversation. I definitely understand that every family and child is different – I have three kids who are in all different levels (one elementary, one middle and one high school) and bell times and sleeping habits are not the only differences between them! I am sorry that our change in schedule will cause hardship for your family, and I do wish there was a way for all of our schools’ start and end times to be more closely aligned. Transportation is one of the most challenging factors – if we had enough buses to support a consistent start/end time across all 22 schools, (which would be A LOT of buses – not to mention a huge expense and significant space issue), we would likely have a staff recruitment/retention issue because bus drivers would work only a couple hours per day. It’s definitely a balancing act. Again, I appreciate your comment, and thanks for acknowledging the complexities.

  7. Meredith LaPlante

    1 year ago

    Dear Dr. Baker,
    I have a kindergarten student at Parkview Elementary and have so appreciated your humorous and thoughtful emails, your engaging face-to-face meetings, and intentional, research-based decisions regarding our kids. I attended the PTO meeting earlier this year during which you shared the research and rationale behind school start time and calendar year decisions and I shared my perspective with you then (I came from a teaching background in Irvine, CA in an environment where change was very difficult to enact) but I wanted to reiterate how pleased I am that my family is a part of Bellingham School District. I recently listened to a TED talk on later start times and wondered if you had seen it: https://www.ted.com/talks/wendy_troxel_why_school_should_start_later_for_teens
    Thanks again for all your hard work!

    • Greg

      1 year ago

      Thanks so much Meredith! Appreciate the feedback and support. And thank you for posting that TED talk! It really helps explain our rationale for making this change. I encourage others to take a moment to watch it.

  8. Sarah Richardson

    7 months ago

    Are you going to ask for feedback from parents/students on how the new start times are going? I’d be interested in seeing reports on what these changes have brought ie. Have grades improved, tardies decreased, etc in the high schoolers? How have the elementary schoolers grades and tardies changed?

    You only seem to mention how great all the high schoolers that you talk to seem to find the schedule, but I cant tell you that every elementary school parent and child I talk to is struggling with these new start times. My 2nd grader used to love school, but with the new start time she ends up in tears more often than not because she is so tired in the mornings. There are plenty of other solutions that could work for this, please try something else, because 8am start time for elementary is NOT working.

    • Greg

      7 months ago

      Hi Sarah, thanks for your comment and questions. Yes, I hope you and others know that I am always very interested in hearing from our students, families, staff and community. I have been receiving feedback and input regarding the new start and end times in many forms – I attend a number of PTA and community meetings throughout the school year, and parents and staff email me and/or call my office with different suggestions or wonders. And since we first floated the idea of an earlier start for elementary in early 2015, we’ve been very intentional about gathering input from students, families, staff and community partners regarding the new start and end times via blogs, surveys and public meetings – and revised the times to better accommodate the needs of our community. I also wrote a blog earlier this school year and received many comments and input regarding the new elementary start time, and the feedback has been mixed.

      I understand that the 8 a.m. start time for elementary is not ideal for some families or students. But it’s also important to note that the old 8:30 a.m. start wasn’t ideal for many folks either. Unfortunately, there isn’t a universally “ideal” start time that works perfectly for every staff member, student or family. Some wish our school doors opened at 7 a.m. to help parents get to work, while for others, 8 a.m. feels too early. Some say 8:30 a.m. is the ideal start time for ALL schools, but given the size of our district (100 square miles with 22 different schools) and transportation complexities, it’s just not doable.

      All that said, yes, we have been monitoring student progress (which is something we always do), and I like your idea of sharing out anything new/different we’ve noticed as a result of this change. We are planning to do a “check in” with high school students, families and staff this spring via a survey, and I think including a question about the new start and end times makes good sense. Thanks for the suggestion.

      I’d love to learn more about your concerns and solutions you and others have, and I will reach out via email to try to set up a time to meet with you. Thanks again for your comment, and I appreciate the feedback.

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