It’s been seven years since Fort Wayne Community Schools changed its start time for high schools from 7:30 a.m. to 9:05 a.m. And looking at archived stories from 2015, not much has changed in the process as the district seeks public comment about moving to a considerably earlier start time.
Strained transportation resources, after-school work, extracurricular activities, safety and caregiving for younger siblings were challenges then and now. In addition, it’s not an easy decision given that FWCS educates 30,000 students in 52 schools spread over 144.9 square miles. The district is a rather large town inside a city.
We laud FWCS for seeking public input on an issue that has consequences beyond school walls.
The district will listen to public comments on adjusting school start and end times beginning at 6:30 tonight at Wayne High School, 9100 Winchester Road.
North Side High School, 475 E. State Blvd., is the location of the last meeting, set for 1 p.m. Nov. 28. People can also provide feedback online at fwcs.info/SchoolHours.
A look at the Southwest Allen, Northwest Allen and East Allen school districts revealed those high schools begin classes before 8 a.m.
FWCS officials said they’ve learned from early feedback that earlier start times would be beneficial, said Krista Stockman, the district’s director of communication and marketing. Anecdotally, students appear to be empathetic in endorsing an earlier start to the day.
“(Superintendent Mark Daniel) asked his Student Cabinet – representatives from all five high schools, FWCS Career Academy and Amp Lab – for their thoughts, and they overwhelmingly said high school needs to start earlier,” Stockman told The Journal Gazette. “Getting out at 4:10 p.m. does not allow for a student to be involved in co-curricular activities and have an after-school job. Involved students frequently are not getting home until 7 p.m. or later, which leaves little time for families and homework.”
When it comes to sleep patterns and start times – which helped drive the 2015 decision – the data shows FWCS did not benefit from beginning the day later.
“Our data … has shown no academic improvement and no improvement in attendance,” she said. “First-period tardies have increased significantly since the change.”
FWCS’ experience differs from other school districts, including Seattle and Denver, which have shown positive effects from starting later in the morning.
If the change is to happen, parents and students will need to reconsider sleep as a mental and physical health imperative. While our culture seems to venerate people who appear to be productive with little sleep – “I’ll rest when I’m dead” – the overwhelming research shows that adolescents suffer from poor sleeping habits.
A consensus statement from the American Academy of Sleep recommends that teenagers aged 13-18 sleep at least eight hours per 24 hours. Yet, 7 out of 10 high schoolers do not get enough sleep on school nights, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2018. The short-sleep rate for middle schoolers was 6 in 10. And this is pre-pandemic research. We already know students experienced an anxiety and sleep deprivation epidemic as COVID-19 disrupted people’s lives.
In her book “The Sleep-Deprived Teen,” released in June, California- based writer Lisa L. Lewis struck upon a truism when she wrote in a recent essay in The Atlantic, “Improving the situation starts with valuing sleep.”
But sleep is just one part of a more significant equation, Lewis said. We need to address the pace of life, too. Teenagers, she noted, are overtaxed mentally, physically and emotionally.
“It may mean reevaluating all of their commitments – and even paring those down – to ensure enough time for sleep,” she wrote in a June 8 online article partly adapted from her book. “In their quest to meet all of the expectations that have been placed on them, our teens are short changing their sleep, and it’s harming their well-being.”
Wise words to consider as FWCS moves toward a decision.