Next Monday, the first alarm in my house will screech at 5:45 a.m. It will be dark outside. We will be groggy.
If you are the parent of a high school student in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, you know exactly what this is like. You also know that it will happen for 180 or so weekdays over the next nine months. Screech. Dark. Groggy.
As it turns out, this is not good for high schoolers. So, today, as we approach the first day of public schools, a request:
Please, school board members, let me – I mean my son – sleep in.
There’s a simple way to do this: Move high school start times from 7:15 a.m., when most begin, to 90 minutes later. A CMS task force proposed doing so last year. Other school districts are doing it. Experts recommend it.
Here’s why: Scientists believe early high school start times interfere with the circadian rhythms of adolescent students, resulting in them not getting the rest they need. That means many are less attentive in class than they could be.
It also means they’re more grumpy at home. As are their parents, who also have to get up early. Not that you need to worry about that.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends moving back the high school start time until at least 8:30 a.m., and studies show that doing so helps students perform better. There’s some evidence that starting later might also decrease athletics-related injuries – and solid evidence that it decreases the number of car crashes among adolescents.
Which, by the way, would give us parents fewer things to fret about.
Not that it’s about us.
The latest district to hit the snooze button happens to be in North Carolina – Durham public schools moved start times to 9 a.m this year at most high schools. The district flipped the starts of high schools and elementary schools, which helped avoid a complete and expensive reworking of the bus schedule.
In fact, that’s one of the hangups CMS seems to have with the change. The district saved millions in transportation costs by going to the current bus schedule a few years back, and changing things all over again would presumably cost money. How much? The district isn’t sure, I’m told, because it hasn’t done a detailed analysis.
Here’s a guess: It would cost plenty less than at least some of the initiatives CMS has tried over the years to improve student performance.
Why not try this one? School board members say it’s not a priority, which is understandable given that they’re kind of busy picking a new superintendent and reevaluating school assignment. But if we’re going to be making changes, why not do it all at once instead of introducing more disruptions down the road?
This disruption, at least, is one that a lot of families would welcome. Yes, pushing start times back would also push after-school activities back, but despite that, parents from across Mecklenburg have asked CMS for years to make the change. So has the Observer editorial board. It’s not just about one alarm clock blaring next Monday morning.
And let’s be clear: There are a lot of things worse than waking up at 5:45 a.m., and there are a lot of students in CMS who face far greater obstacles to learning. CMS is right to focus much of its efforts on giving those children a better chance to succeed.
But changing high school start times would do just that, for students across the county. It’s not a big bang approach, like student assignment, and it’s not a sexy initiative, like technology. It’s just something that makes sense. High school kids get more sleep. They do better in school. Everyone is happy.
And I mean everyone.
@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @saintorange