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Revisiting the Question of School Start Times, Two Months In

It takes less than twenty minutes to watch one episode of Friends, or to finish off a pizza with a friend.  Twenty minutes is a short, insignificant block of time. The fact that a mere twenty minutes is all that Montgomery County could afford to contribute to the improvement of its students’ health is disappointing.

A couple months into the school year, it is evident that MCPS’ decision to delay start times by twenty minutes was insufficient.  Climbing out of bed in the morning is still the most painful struggle of my day (an action I would still never successfully complete if not for the quality of my stash of cereal just downstairs). The sky is still dark when I begin my bike ride to school.  There’s still that one kid in my first period class who, each day without failure, manages to drift off to sleep during our lessons.

In fact, according to a study made by the National Sleep Foundation, a third of all teenagers questioned report falling asleep in school.
One of the best public school systems in the nation, MCPS provides academic rigor and intellectual stimulation for all students, maintaining its impressive statistics. Meanwhile, the human beings trudging through are drowning, attempting to function through sleep deprivation.

Countless studies prove that teenagers need at least eight hours of sleep nightly. Failure to log all eight hours can lead to anxiety, depression, stress, and a plethora of other health problems. But amid piles on piles of worksheets, essays, and tests; extracurricular activities, family commitments, and an effort to enjoy one’s youth, a 10:00 pm bedtime proves out of reach.

Last year, MCPS finally initiated a conversation on this issue. Superintendent Starr proposed pushing back the high school start time to 8:00 am or even swapping high school and elementary school openings, allowing high schoolers to begin at 9:10 am.  We were so close! I could almost taste the easy mornings, with the sun rising before me, and my brain fully functioning during first period in-class writes.

MCPS posted a Data Collection Summary that backed its decision, showing a favor toward leaving start times as is, but this data was biased: administration only surveyed teachers. Students were voiceless.

The insignificance of the final decision, to push the bell to 7:40 am, would have been laughable, if it had not signaled the continuation of the entire student body’s exhaustion. It was clear that the change was no more than a token of gesture, a tactic to buy more time for MCPS to avoid the problem while stealing valuable time for rest and recovery from students.

Yes, a later delay would require more time and money for buses. The benefits are worth the cost. Plus, MCPS itself stated in its Data Collection Summary that pushing back the school day until 8:00 “would have a minimal financial impact.” The majority of school districts in the nation, many with less money and fewer resources than MCPS, start school after 8:00–why can’t we?

Montgomery County owes it to its students to treat their health with the same first-class commitment and care that it exerts toward their intellectual development. The start time issue demands reconsideration.

Article by MoCo Student Opinions Writer Zoe Nuechterlein of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School

About The MoCo Student

In 2012, Student Member of the Board of Education John Mannes created a countywide press network to help build a conduit to share fresh and relevant information written by youth to the wider Montgomery County student body.

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