Proposal: Tackling Early School Starts for Adolescent Health
Proposal Background: The Impact of Early School Timing
An early school start time in Half Hollow Hills High School East is an issue that can impact adolescents who are continuing to develop and need a good night’s sleep in order to be productive in school and throughout the day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 93% of high schools started their school day before 8:30 a.m. While this is a problem that is evident nationwide, it is something that should be tackled on a smaller scale first to implement action as soon as possible. Having an early school start time is a problem that needs to be addressed.
There are many scientific findings about adolescents and their sleep. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that teenagers get an average of 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night and how the biological shift makes it harder for adolescents at this age to fall asleep earlier than 11:00. A lack of sleep impacts different functions, such as learning, problem-solving, and focusing. According to Start School Later, published by the Washington Post, oftentimes, times close to a third of students end up napping in class because the first bell rings before 8:00 a.m.
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Personal Experience: The Struggles of Early School Starts
This problem not only impacts students, it also impacts teachers and parents. While I was a student at High School East, I found myself struggling to wake up in the morning because of the early start time. My first class started at 7:19 a.m., meaning that it would still be pitch black outside when I woke up in the morning. My daily schedule included school from 7:19 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., clubs until 3:00 p.m., dance team practice until 6:00 p.m., and then get home at 6:15 p.m. By the time I got home, I would have to complete hours of homework from my classes, have dinner, shower, study, and make sure I got a good night’s sleep all within a night.
As I became an upperclassman student, this school-life balance became even harder. I had to take driver’s education, ACT tutoring once or twice a week, and prepare my college applications. While I was successful in high school, I noticed myself sleeping long hours during the weekend to make up for the lack of sleep I got during the week.
I was not the only student who struggled with the issue of a normal sleep schedule. No matter what classes you were taking, clubs you were involved in, and other activities you needed to do after you returned home from school, I found that many students like myself found themselves falling into horrible sleep patterns as well, leading to a lack of sleep. When I asked my best friend Shelby Gosset if she had the same struggle, she said, “I slept an average of 5 hours a night because of all of my AP assignments and then had to stay after school for clubs and extra help to ensure I was utilizing as many resources as I could to be successful”.
Shelby and I had very different academic course loads and after-school activities, yet we both experienced a form of sleep deprivation. Many students would have to sleep in a few periods and come in late to catch up on sleep. Parents often struggled with getting their kids up because their bodies were so tired.
The Wider Implications: Beyond Just Student Sleep
It would impact students’ grades, and teachers would become frustrated that students would not be in class as frequently or walk in late. When my parents met with my teachers at conferences, my teachers that I had in the morning would speak about my attendance and how it was impacting my performance in the class. My parents would then have to speak with my guidance counselor each year to talk about the issues I had with sleep to ensure I had a class in the morning that was lighter, meaning that it was not a core class such as Science or Math. For two years, I had math first period, which was not easy for me. I already struggled in those areas, to begin with, and my constant lack of sleep made it harder for me to concentrate in these classes.
The reason why this issue has not been addressed is that many teachers in the school feel that this early start time would not work because of after-school activities, afternoon sports, and other factors that the district would need to handle that need to be taken into consideration beyond adolescents wanting more time to sleep. They also feel that maturity has to do with students being focused in an early class as it prepares them for the real world because they will eventually need to wake up early for a job and be alert at that hour.
Push for Change: Community Efforts and Petitions
My parents have tried to address it with my guidance counselor, along with other parents, creating petitions to help fix this problem. I am interested in proposing to my former teacher, Mr.Troise, methods he can use to ease students into the school day because of the early school start time in this formal recommendation. This will be used to show how serious of a problem this is, how it is impacting adolescent development and the few ways they could implement a solution to iron out this ongoing problem.
Research Insights: Adolescent Sleep and Development
There is a great deal of research on the topic of adolescent development and sleep that will be included in the formal proposal. I will include the positive impacts of a later school start time and how it will help adolescents and development and steer away from the negative implications of an early start time.
Sleep deprivation is viewed as a widespread phenomenon in the United States. It is recommended that adolescents get 8 to 9 hours of sleep a night. However, a school start time prevents many adolescents from getting their needed sleep. One reason behind this phenomenon is the change in circadian rhythm, known as a melatonin shift. This shift makes it harder for adolescents to get to bed at a reasonable hour and still get the recommended time needed for sleep. This can lead to various health implications. One issue that comes with sleep deprivation is a lack of concentration in classes. William Dement also stated that adolescents are not performing to their maximum potential because of this epidemic. These issues can become even deeper beyond a lack of concentration. Adolescents can not perform as well on examinations, weight gain, and depression.
Schools will have a morning meeting period to build a classroom community. In middle school and high school, this is harder to achieve because you are not in the same class all day. It is intended to be a safe space for students where they can engage in discussions that may not necessarily deal with a specific class. Some students may not feel they have a place to belong. Therefore, it is a way to build relationships among peers and teachers. A classroom community is important no matter where you are in your education level.
Yoga Programs and Team Building: Enhancing Student Well-being and Skills
There are various school yoga programs that exist in the United States. A study was conducted by Bethany Butzer et al. that looked at 36 programs in over 940 schools throughout the country. These schools ranged from elementary school to high school. The instructional programs taught students four elements of yoga. These programs would teach students how to do yoga poses, breathing exercises, relaxation methods, and meditation. The results of this study showed how these programs can be practical to include in the school day. There are many benefits to yoga in schools. Some of these benefits include reduced anxiety, increased concentration and focus, and more energy.
Team building helps stimulate an individual’s development and interaction within group environments. Individuals can communicate their ideas to others and learn how to work with a team of individuals. Communication skills are enhanced along with helping a teenager’s self-esteem. Group settings can often intimidate individuals and make them scared to express their thoughts. Practicing this idea can give students the confidence and ability to handle group situations and feel comfortable communicating with all students. These are skills that will take adolescents beyond their high school years and into their adult lives. It allows them to take what they learned in these tasks and can be applied in a work environment as well.
Recommendations: Possible Solutions for Half Hollow Hills
A formal recommendation report will be created to discuss the various solutions to ease students into the school day at Half Hollow Hills High School East. If these solutions are implemented and are effective in a first-period class, they can be used as a precedent to help other first-period classes and potentially throughout the district. Because it is a common issue, other schools may have an interest in this topic as well. In a community with over 2,000 students, it will help to improve their adolescent development and overall day in school. It will also help to enhance the morale of the school community and create less conflict between students, teachers, and parents.
There will be various concepts addressed in the recommendation report. It will first talk about how the current start time is impacting the school community. Next, it will focus on the science behind this phenomenon and the impacts it has on adolescents. After the scientific research, it will include information on what other high schools around the country are doing. The final section will include the proposed solutions to address an early school start time.
The first proposal is to have a morning meeting or advisory period and shorten the first-period class. An advisory period allows students to sit together and discuss what is going on in the school community and their personal concerns. Rather than jumping into the material at 7:20 in the morning, it gives them a short break to help ease the transition into the school day.
Yoga & Team-Building: Energizing Morning Classes
The second proposal is to incorporate yoga and meditation within the first ten minutes of class. The teacher can hand over yoga cards to a student and have them instruct the class for the first ten minutes. This is a great way to get active participation in the morning and improve their overall mindset throughout the period. There are many benefits behind yoga, which can translate into the classroom environment.
The final proposal that will be made is to incorporate team-building games into the morning. Team building games can be focused on various different topics that are learned about inside the classroom or outside the classroom. It gets students moving and collaborating as a group rather than individuals sitting at their desks. It creates a classroom community for students and teachers and helps to ensure comfort and trust between members of the classroom as well. Teachers can use various games and methods to enhance communication and social skills within the classroom, as well as allow students to practice skills they will need in school and beyond.
Targeted Readers: From Teachers to Administrators
The primary readers would be Mr.Troise. This individual is a teacher who has often taught first-period classes such as algebra and physics. He was my 1st-period algebra teacher in 9th grade. This was the first time he ever taught as a full-time teacher in my district. I remember feeling very tired in his class because of the lack of sleep I had. It then led to difficulties focusing and concentrating that early in the morning on math problems. This proposal will be sent to him to suggest ways he can help his current and future students. He is the individual who runs the classroom and teaches content to his students.
The secondary readers would be the students in his first-period class. The students in his class are the ones who are trying to do well in the class but also are trying to remain awake and alert. If the students are involved in these programs and feel they are effective, they can talk about it with their peers to try and see if their teachers would consider these ideas. They are the individuals who will be directly impacted by these methods that will be incorporated into Mr. Troise’s first-period class.
The tertiary readers would be parents of these students in his earliest class. These individuals do not have as direct of an impact because they will not be physically in the classroom. However, parents and teachers often build a relationship surrounding the circumstances of their child. If they feel this is an effective method that is working, they can speak about it with Mr.Troise and explain how it is helping them outside of the classroom as well.
Dr. Strong & Improving Mornings at Half Hollow Hills
Lastly, Dr.Strong would be a future gatekeeper. Dr.Strong is the principal of Half Hollow Hills High School East. If he sees how these methods are working in one class, they can help to propose these ideas in other classes in the department and eventually throughout the whole school. He can observe Mr. Troise’s class over a period of time and eventually bring these ideas to his administrative team to figure out how to implement a solution throughout the entire school.
Half Hollow Hills High School East is recognized as a top 100 high school in New York. However, it can implement ways to help ease students into the day because of the early school start time, which can help them to improve adolescents’ experience during the school day and overall ranking in New York and the United States. Because of the size of the high school, it is not always easy to recognize the individual problems and how they impact the students in that environment.
My formal recommendation report will look at how sleep impacts adolescent development and methods that can be incorporated to address this early morning bell time. While these are suggestions that are made, it is up to the teacher to decide how they will handle this situation. The final proposal will give insight into this issue and what they can be doing to help the community, along with research on how these methods work inside the classroom.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). School Start Times for Adolescents. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
- National Sleep Foundation. (2020). Teen Sleep Habits and Patterns. NSF Publications.
- Barnes, M. (2018). Start School Later. Washington Post.
- Dement, W. (2021). Sleep and Adolescents: Understanding the Impact. Journal of Adolescent Health.