Hampton officials weigh benefits of later school start time
Delaying the start of the day for older Hampton students is coming closer to a reality, according to a presentation at the June 4 school board meeting at the Hampton Township Middle School library.
Earlier this year, a committee consisting of district principals, administrators and school board members was created to investigate on whether delaying start times would be beneficial to students' academic, physiological and emotional well-being. And if that answer was “yes,” then they would move forward on what factors must be considered before the start time is changed, according to the presentation.
After months of research and informal surveys with students and parents, officials announced at last week's meeting that it would be beneficial, and they are moving forward.
If this preliminary research determined it was not worth further review, they were going to stop at that point. “The consensus of the committee based on the data is we think this is the right thing to do,” said Dr. Michael Loughead, superintendent of the school district who took part in the committee research. They also concluded due to the complexity of the factors that need to be considered, it should be a two-year investigation and no one should expect any possible changes until the 2020-21 school year, Loughead said.
“This is where it gets very complicated and difficult,” he said.
Currently, the middle school begins at 7:55 a.m. with the earliest bus pick-up at 7:05 a.m. and high school begins at 7:30 a.m. with the earliest pick-up at 6:30 a.m.
They researched various studies and recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine among others, according to Dr. Jay Thornton, director of student services.
They also referred to information presented earlier this year by a local expert on the subject from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Dr. Peter Franzen.
The committee shared its research showing that nine hours of sleep is recommended for adolescents. However, older children have a hard time falling asleep earlier than 11:30 p.m. because of physiological changes, most likely changes in hormones. Yet, these children are the ones who have to get up earlier for school.
Younger students are able to fall asleep earlier.
Dr. Jacquelyn Removcik, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said it wasn't enough to study national or local research but they also wanted to “take the pulse of the Hampton community.”
Therefore, they conducted an informal survey asking students in grades sixth through 12 about their sleep habits; hours spent in school activities or sports, nonschool activities or employment; and amount of time spent doing homework.
They also surveyed the parents to compare responses.
Of those who responded from Hampton Township School District, the average sleep band for each grade in sixth, seventh and eighth showed the students were getting between approximately six hours to sometimes nine-and-a-half hours of sleep.
However, the higher the grade, the less sleep they got. With some ninth- through 12th-graders only getting approximately five hours of sleep at night, ranging up to approximately eight hours.
Research shows inadequate sleep negatively affects overall health and wellness, and there is a recommendation of no earlier than an 8:30 a.m. start time, they said.
There are now a number of factors that need to be studied such as transportation, academic programs, and more.
“Feedback from parents is a very important part of this,” Loughead said.
The majority of board members present agreed with the recommendation though some thought the change could be expedited to beginning a year earlier.
Mary Alice Hennessey, school board member, suggested students may just stay up later if they know they don't have to get up earlier.
“There are so many questions on how this will be accomplished and if it can be accomplished,” said school board Chair of Educational Programs and board member Gail Litwiler.
Currently, there is an academic redesign underway for the high school with its recommendations from Principal Dr. Marguerite Imbarlina expected this fall, which could help with planning, according to Loughead.
Natalie Beneviat is a Tribune-Review contributor.