I’ve been pretty quiet about the early start time at Greenfield High School lately. Not because I’ve lost interest – but because I’ve been busy working to raise national awareness of the consequences of early high school start times.
In November 2011, I joined forces with several concerned parents from Florida, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington to form the steering committee of Start School Later. We are a not-for-profit, all volunteer national coalition advocating for safe and healthy start times in our nation’s public schools. We have made progress these past few months and currently have members in 19 states and an Advisory Board of experts from respected institutions including the Harvard Medical School and the University of California, Berkeley.
While I’m still deeply concerned about Greenfield’s 7:10 start time (among the earliest in the United States) I now realize that districts routinely implement start time policies with no regard for the health and safety of our children. When it comes to these types of decisions, all of the 13,629 public school districts in the United States will not consistently do the right thing. Efforts to change start times in many communities will always be ineffective when politics and myths trump student health and well-being. That’s why I’m working with Start School Later.
Advocating for national change has been difficult but I’m happy to say that we are making baby steps in the right direction. For example, this week several of our members are meeting with Dr. Anne Mathews-Younes, Director of the Division of Prevention, Traumatic Stress and Special Programs, and Dr. Richard McKeon, Director of the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). SAMHSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and is increasingly recognizing the importance sleep plays in the health and wellness of young people. The scientific research regarding adolescent sleep, the link between early start times and mental health, and the need for large scale policy change will be among the topics discussed.
Our goals are ambitious, but I’m optimistic. Early high school start times impact the health of countless children nationwide. Someday, the decisions makers in DC will recognize that waking at 5:30 to catch a school bus and beginning school in the 7 o’clock hour is incompatible with an adolescent’s health, safety, and ability for optimum academic achievement. In the meantime, we will continue to advocate for change and work to raise national awareness of this important public health issue.
For Patch readers not yet familiar with the consequences of early start times and sleep loss in teens, Start School Later co-founder Dr. Terra Ziporyn Snider recently had an article published in Education Week. She does a great job of describing the start time issue and addresses the obstacles that many good parents encounter when trying to change local policies.