As I previously shared with the Webster CSD community, during its Nov. 2 meeting, your board of education asked me to design a process and gather feedback that would explore the possibility and feasibility of later start times for secondary students. The district offered its first community-wide forum to begin studying the topic (with another forum to follow later this year) on Jan. 31. I was gratified to welcome more than 120 parents, teachers and administrators to learn more about later start times and how sleep (and the lack of it) impacts our students’ developing brains.
The forum included presentations from John Foxe and Ed Freedman, University of Rochester Medical Center neuroscience researchers, Dr. Holly Connolly, chief of the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Division of Pediatric Sleep Medicine, and Dr. Joanne Cordaro, pediatrician at Eastside Pediatrics. Each provided scientific data that a lack of sleep in adolescents results in increased anxiety, depression, substance abuse, poor academic performance, attention impairments, drowsy driving and obesity.
The scientific evidence regarding what sleep deprivation does to an adolescent’s developing brain and cognitive function is undeniable, but to hear about it with this level of detail further affirmed why, as a district, we need to closely study this issue and how it impacts our students. A developing teen’s preferred sleep times, due to their circadian rhythms (our internal, 24-hour “body clocks” or sleep/wake cycles) is an 11 p.m. bedtime and an 8 a.m. (or later) wake-up time. The American Academy of Pediatrics has even endorsed a high school start time of 8:30 a.m. or later, due to these negative effects of sleep deprivation in young people. The adjustment of school start times, as the forum presenters pointed out, is one important risk factor that can be modified to help reduce the mental and physical health concerns linked to teen sleep deprivation.
As the start-time study process begins, there will be many people in our district participating in all aspects of any potential changes. Again, this is a long-term study. If the group determines that changes in our district are both necessary and possible, those changes won’t take place until the fall of 2019. It is my hope that I can provide additional data and recommendations from the Start-Time Study Group’s work (and its sub-committees) to the board at the beginning of the 2018 school year. If those recommendations require the district to adjust secondary school start times to a later time, the district would take a full year to communicate the plan to our families.
The district has included videos of the three medical professionals’ presentations from the Jan. 31 meeting on the district’s YouTube channel, youtube.com/WebsterSchoolsProud, if you are interested in watching. Thanks again to our One Webster community for being willing to learn along with us as we explore this critical issue for our students.