December 27, 2016 10:25AM
By Anna Maria Lemoine
Sun staff writer
WESTERLY — During the school year, Cole Riley wakes up about 30 minutes before the first bell, takes a 5-minute shower and is ready to go.
His mornings and overnights — he gets less than nine hours of sleep a night — are routines the 15-year-old doesn’t necessarily want to change.
“I know what the research says, but I wouldn’t want to sleep in or have a later start to school,” said Riley, an honor roll student and athlete who will be a sophomore at Westerly High School this fall. “I really think I wouldn’t be as productive and would be more sluggish if I slept in.”
The district is beginning to take a hard look at pushing back morning bell times for high school students. Scientists have long advised that expecting teens to show up to class before 8 a.m. isn’t good for their health or grades.
While Riley likes the current schedule — school starts at 7:20 a.m. and gets out at 1:55 p.m. — several parents, students, teachers and administrators say they like the prospect for change.
According to the results of a survey the district conducted several months ago, 58.7 percent of the 1,037 who responded believe a change should be made to Westerly High’s start time.
“There have been interesting discussions about school start times held in Rhode Island and across the nation,” Superintendent Roy Seitsinger Jr. said. “We thought we would look into the topic for ourselves. This conversation will be ongoing, and there are no plans as yet to significantly change any school start times.”
Seitsinger added that the fall of 2017 would be the soonest any change would be made.
“If you start school later, you get out later ... practice will go later and by the time you get home and start homework, it’s pretty late,” said Josh Gougon, 17, who will be a senior and gets an average of six or seven hours of sleep each night. Gougon also plays sports. “I don’t think it’s worth the hassle.”
Two years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement recommending that middle and high schools start class no earlier than 8:30 a.m. “because adolescents have unique sleep rhythms that make it harder for them to go to sleep and wake up earlier than other people, and that sleep deprivation can affect academic achievement as well as cause other problems.”
Sleep experts said most teens can’t easily fall asleep until about 11 p.m., and their brains stay in sleep mode until at least 8 a.m. Officials with the National Sleep Foundation say teens need about 9¼ hours of sleep each night to function best, but that the vast majority don’t get it.
However, Austin Martin, 17, who will be a senior at WHS, pointed out that “Most people who have jobs have to get up early. When you get up early, you’re more productive. Getting up early now sets us up for the rest of our lives.”
During the 2011-12 school year, 33 percent of U.S. high schools started the school day between 7:30 a.m. and 7:59 a.m., and 43 percent started between 8 a.m. and 8:29 a.m., according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
“There is research that says later start times do have benefits,” Westerly High Principal Todd Grimes said. “I worked for a principal that talked about this eight to 10 years ago. We talked to two focus groups of students about this, and there were a lot of mixed answers.
“We’re not talking about a 9:30 a.m. start time, more like between 8 and 8:30, and we still had students who weren’t sure about that.”
Pushing back the high school start time wouldn’t just alter morning routines, either: 47.6 percent of those polled in Westerly said that if the start time were to change it would impact jobs; 45.4 percent said it would impact sports, and 32.5 percent said it would impact siblings.
“We have initiated a conversation in our district to develop a sense of the issues, both pro and con, related to this topic,” Seitsinger said. “It is important to remember that although the research certainly indicates that school start times are worthy of examination, the times are embedded in a myriad of other societal time frameworks such as day care, athletic schedules, sibling care, and work schedules, so adjusting start times is complicated.”
Elizabeth Rogers has a daughter who will be a senior at Westerly High this fall. She also has a son, an eighth-grader, who will enter the high school in 2017-18.
“My daughter is fine with the current times because she goes to bed early and prefers to get out early,” Rogers said. “For my son, I think he would benefit from a later start time. He is very active with hockey and orchestra during the school year, both of which make for late nights during the week.
“It seems the older they get the later practice gets and by the time he gets home it can be 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. before he’s in bed. He could definitely use the extra sleep in the morning.”
Rogers said she was happy that the district had initiated the conversation.
“I do think it’s good they are looking at the start times,” Rogers said. “However, I think it depends on the child and one solution is not going to work for every family. I know that some of the high school students work after school and like getting out early.”