December 03, 2015

Pop quiz – what’s the optimum hour for students to start school? The answer all depends on whom you ask. And it’s nearly enough to leave you wishing you didn’t.

First, there’s a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics that recommended middle and high school students start school no earlier than 8:30 a.m. They urged schools to let students snooze longer to improve physical and mental health, safety, academic performance, and quality of life.

Then, there’s the researchers from Harvard, Oxford and the University of Nevada who tipped the clock back even further, recommending start times stagger with “biological wake times” that’d have high school students beginning as late as 10:30 a.m.

But yet, in the 2011-2012 school year, fewer than one in five middle and high schools in the U.S. began the day at 8:30 a.m. or later, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In some cases, teachers were strongly opposed. Like in Montgomery County, MD, where they overwhelmingly voted against starting school later, citing concerns for lower-income students with jobs and the extension of afterschool activities.

Not to be outdone by their east coast cohorts, the Seattle school board recently approved to move back the start times for most of the city’s public middle and high schools to 8:45 a.m.

Before you go bleary-eyed, let’s take a timeout to hear from an expert about what’s really going on here.

“The issue of school start times is so complex,” said Jeanne Gilbert, Assistant Professor, Director, Student Teacher Services, School of Education at Regis University. “When I was a middle school principal, I knew the challenge of juggling busses, start times, and activities, while maintaining a focus on learning. I have no doubt that later start times for secondary students could lead to more alert learners. But our lives have become incredibly busy! A typical middle or high school student might spend 10-12 hours per day at school. Later start times can mean less family time around the dinner table and less opportunity for outside activities and interests. Our children lead very involved, busy lives. One change can have unintended, domino effects on many other equally critical aspects of raising healthy, educated children.”

Like many issues that impact our classrooms, this one has no easy answer. Regardless of where you stand on the school start time debate, see how you can hone your leadership skills and become an educator that inspires future generations of children. Start by filling out the form right on this page.