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Hampton explores benefits of later school start time

| Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018, 11:30 p.m.

Parents and community members in Hampton Township learned about the benefits of delaying school start times for high school students at a Jan. 22 public meeting hosted by the district at the high school.

Dr. Peter Franzen, an assistant professor of psychology at the Center for Sleep and Circadian Science of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is a local expert on the subject and presented research and studies over the years.

The superintendent of the district, Dr. Michael Loughead, started the meeting by stressing this was merely informational, and no decisions on adjusting school-day start times have been or are planned on being made any time soon.

He said he and the rest of the administration and board members wanted to hear the science and research of adolescent sleep patterns and why it has been such an important topic.

“We have no other plans than to listen and learn like all of you,” said Loughead.

Franzen said studies around the country reveal high school students are not getting enough sleep. The effects can lead to negative consequences, such as obesity, lower grades, depression, suicide, substance abuse, sports injuries and car crashes.

He called this issue an “epidemic of sleep deprivation” among teens.

Studies show high school-aged students need about eight to 10 hours of sleep to function properly, but changes in a teenager's biology usually decreases their ability to fall asleep before 11 p.m. Then they have to wake up early for school.

His research shows that on average only 27 percent of this age group is getting eight or more hours of sleep opposed to 73 percent getting seven or fewer.

The recommendation is an 8:30 a.m. start time for that age, with later start times supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control, American Medical Association and others.

Hampton high school begins at 7:30 a.m.

Several concerns at the meeting were raised such as childcare and working parents who rely on older students to watch the younger ones after school if the older students were getting home later. Also, after school activities could be affected.

Anita Sinicrope Maier, a Hampton resident who has been a psychotherapist for more than 30 years and executive director for Footsteps for Recovery, said her teenaged clients were definitely affected by lack of sleep and has supported this idea for a long time. She said anxiety and depression for youth is very prevalent today and sleep deprivation plays an big role in that.

“We're talking about our children's well-being. It's a matter of where our priorities are,” she said, adding sports and other after-school activities shouldn't drive early start times.

Heather Midgley, a district resident with a 4- and 7-year-old, wondered how it would affect younger students if a school decides to adjust elementary schools to accommodate the high school. A scenario could be to swap the start of the days.

“All of this is going to have a ripple effect on so many levels,” she said.

Franzen said younger children, who need between nine and 11 hours of sleep, can biologically fall asleep earlier and are able to wake up earlier. But their sleep is just as important.

Some other ideas is to delay starts for all the school levels. Also, management of bussing would be need to be addressed.

And in response to a parent suggesting that teens will just stay up later since they know they don't have to get up early, he said research shows that teens still fell asleep at an appropriate time when given a later start.

He did mention that social media and technology use has played a negative affect on sleep, as teens sometimes use these late at night.

Overall, he said while he supports an 8:30 a.m. start time for high school students, each district has to decide what works for them.

“We're not in a vacuum. We have all these competing things that have to be addressed,” he said.

Loughead said they would like to have Franzen return for another presentation in the future.

Several local school districts are investigating the benefits of delaying the start of the day for high school students while others have already implemented the action, such as Avonworth and Quaker Valley School District.

Natalie Beneviat is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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