Is a later start to school the answer?

I read with interest the recent study that indicated having school start later would not only have health benefits for sleep deprived adolescents, but would also help save significant money – $9 billion is the number I heard cited. My understanding of the subject is that kids would actually focus better and there would be fewer car accidents. This, however, does assume that the students would not respond to a later start to school by going to bed later. And everyone on both sides of the issue claims to know whether that assumption is true or false.

I don’t. I have no idea.

When I consider it from my workplace view, the most exhausted point of the day for the high school students is about 1pm. That, of course, is also when they have run out of whatever energy drinks or caffeine they started with to survive the morning. They generally stop being able to pay attention to anything academic by right after lunch. So, is an effective use of our resources to continue teaching them beyond that point?

Doesn’t that mean, though, that the answer is a shortened school day, on either end of it, versus just moving the whole day an hour or two later?

But when I consider it that way, some uncomfortable personal truths and motivations begin to emerge. It may well be true that school days should be shorter – but what happens if one school does that and another doesn’t? What if the school I work at decides to continue a seven hour school day and we choose the later start time, while my kids’ schools continue to start at the same time but are shorter? That complicates things.

What if the school I work at shortens the day – that would mean I would work fewer hours, sure, but it would be ethical and right for me to therefore get paid less. And getting paid less would be a challenge for my family. We have done it before, lived on significantly less, but I’ll admit that if I can avoid that I’d rather do so.

This is where it gets really uncomfortable. I realize, that despite its potential to make education both more succinct and more valuable all at once, I selfishly struggle with supporting the idea of a later start. Not because “these kids today” just need to buck up and put their phones away at night – nope, I am not criticizing the normal lifestyle of the average American teenager. In some ways, I am worse – intellectually I recognize the potential value in trying both later start times and shorter class days – but I am afraid of the repercussions of that change in my own little world.

That said, my own selfish worries are not enough of a reason not to try it, and I am happy to see it is being talked about. Change is good, change is inevitable. We want to try to make that inevitable change positive.

Would a later start to school be that positive change? It will be tried, at some point, no matter how nervous I might selfishly be about it. How will that play out?

Time will tell.

Jessica Falconer

About Jessica Falconer

Jessica Falconer is a school social worker who lives in Belfast, Maine with her two feral children, ages three and six, her relatively tolerant but grumpy husband, and the neurotic family dog. She is wicked blunt and slightly crazy with a sense of humor that gets on some people’s nerves. Parenting is her most difficult challenge yet and she hopes desperately to survive.