Chelmsford Students to the Homework on Start Times
CHELMSFORD -- Later school start times have been shown to be healthier for high school students, but how could such a big change be implemented in a way that makes sense for everyone in the school system?
It’s a topic, brought forward by a group of high school students, that school officials have begun to look into, along with other possible changes to how the schools operate.
Chelmsford High seniors Carlos Bejar-Garcia and Ayush Chaudhary and junior Alex Lawton were part of a group of students that began to study the issue last school year. They brought their ongoing research to a wider audience at a Tuesday night informational forum, hosted by the School Committee and school administration, that also explored condensing February and April vacation weeks into one week in March and implementing alternative structured learning opportunities for students on snow days and other times school gets canceled.
“As it turns out, one of the things which many people tend not to realize, is that when you go through puberty, the body’s circadian rhythm, which is the internal clock which regulates what time you wake up, what time you go to bed, gets delayed by about two hours,” Bejar-Garcia told a room of parents, teachers and school officials.
Adults typically begin to release the sleep chemical melatonin around 9 p.m., but in teenagers, it tends to be around 11 p.m., he said. Paired with early school start times -- such as Chelmsford High’s at 7:19 a.m. -- it means most students are sleep-deprived, Bejar-Garcia said.
He said research has found that when high school students can go to school about an hour later, they will get 45 minutes to an hour of more sleep.
“So it’s not perfect, but it does get them more sleep, and more sleep leads to better rested students, who pay attention more in class, and as a result, when they pay more attention in class, they have to spend less time studying, less time doing homework,” Bejar-Garcia said.
Chaudhary and Lawton said they understand sports, transportation and other schedules could be impacted by the time change, but they are conducting more research into what other school districts have done.
Chairman Dennis King said the topics discussed Tuesday came up as items of interest in conversations with parents and teachers at meetings throughout the past year, especially as other districts explore the same possible changes.
Committee member Donna Newcomb, who led much of the session, stressed numerous times that none of the potential changes being discussed were planned to be implemented anytime soon, and that school officials are doing their due diligence in exploring the issues.
On the alternative learning piece, or “blizzard bags” as they’re nicknamed, Newcomb said the idea is to provide a meaningful learning experience for students on snow days so that the days count toward required learning time. She said other districts approach them in different ways, including project-based learning, informational review, or a combination thereof.
“It by no means replaces the necessary teacher-student interaction needed for learning,” but provides a way for learning to continue on days school is canceled and can help prevent the school year from going too late into the summer, Newcomb said.
Parents in the audience were split on the items, some in support and some against the potential changes. Many had questions about potential unforeseen consequences, especially where the schedule and calendar changes were concerned.
School officials assured them that surveys would be sent out to them as they further explore the possibilities and that all stakeholders would be involved in the process as it moves forward.
Follow Alana Melanson on Twitter @alanamelanson.