Sleep On It

By: Hannah Koch (283)

Sleep is a bit of a sore subject for many Central students, including myself. Whether it be dozing off in class, blankly staring at the front of the room as the teacher gives a lecture, or trying to catch a few minutes of rest during lunch – oh, looks like you’re late to your next period. But is this drowsiness entirely the fault of students? While the district had initially announced their plans to start and end school an hour later for the following school year, they recently have announced that they will delay making the change until the 2023-24 school year. The district seeks to make the change due to a multitude of factors, but the main reason stated by the district are the numerous studies discussing the detrimental impact that starting school too early can have on high school students. 

Due to a phenomenon observed in teens brought on by puberty, known as “phase shift delay,” the average teenager begins to stay up later and sleep in through the morning. This shift, however, does not mix well with the rigid 8:00 AM start time that many high schools, Central included, have adopted. According to the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is “recommended that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later to give students the opportunity to get the amount of sleep they need,” to avoid the slew of negative health effects that can accompany sleep deprivation ranging from obesity, depression, and anxiety to a higher risk of substance abuse, and poor grades. “I think it’s a very good idea for high schoolers to start school later,” says Leah Batchis, an attorney and parent of a Central High School student. “My sense, from the research that I’ve read, is that it’s very beneficial to learning.” 

You might be wondering, if the start time is moved to 9:00 AM, won’t students just stay up later into the night instead of taking the extra hour of sleep? Remarkably, in the same study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, it was shown that students’ bedtimes in schools that adopted a later start time were rarely affected by the change, and some even started going to bed earlier. In high schools that start after 8:30 AM, there was a decrease in reported sleepiness during class, and a small increase in student’s overall grades and scores on standardized tests. 

Another concern may be that students who are driven in by their parents won’t have access to the same conveniences as before. We are fortunate to live in a city with a (at the very least) functional public transportation system, and a school district that provides free SEPTA passes for buses, subways, and trolleys. The change can promote independence in students, and open more possibilities for energy and emission-efficient routes to school. 

According to most students, the majority of concerns over the schedule change come from school dismissal. Daylight savings time may be a big issue during the winter months, when the sun sets at 4:30 PM and most students are not even home yet. But luckily, a bill in the U.S. Congress is currently awaiting approval by the House of Representatives that would keep the clocks fixed all year ‘round, and could be implemented as soon as 2023. This would be a huge help to students under the new school schedule, as it would move sunset to 5:30 PM and allow for a lighter and safer trip home. 

Regardless of daylight savings, I’m not a fan of having to leave school later. Phoenix Wicks, a member of 283 and fellow writer for The Centralizer, had this to say regarding the school district’s decision: “I think that ultimately, if they really wanted to improve our mental health, they should just make the school day shorter.” Wouldn’t that be a spectacle, a 9-3 school day? But it’d be like wishing on a star, to shrink the school day by a whole hour. At the current rate, clubs and sports will be pushed an hour later with the delayed dismissal time. “Obviously they don’t have to wake up as early, they get an hour of extra sleep, but is that really enough to compensate for how late you had to stay up doing homework?” asks Phoenix. Kids will be getting on public transit later, eating later, doing homework later, but even with all of these setbacks, there’s never any time that is lost. Everything is just shifting one hour later. Time for sleep and homework will stay the same. For older students with jobs, however, and students who have the responsibility of picking up or caring for younger siblings, things will be a lot more complicated. 

“I think that the Philadelphia School District is such a large institution that whenever it tries to make any change there are usually some hiccups,” states Leah Batchis. Many decisions made by the district in the past have faced harsh criticism, and this new change hasn’t been implemented perfectly, but there’s still some hope that things will work out in the end. No solution will fit everyone’s needs, but if a problem as widespread as sleep deprivation can take one more step towards a solution, I think it will be worth it.

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